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Academia sells – Internet boosts partnerships

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Columbia University is at the forefront of a new shift in academic culture, aggressively trying to turn its intellectual capital into financial capital, the New York Times reported August 2.

The university is currently collecting more in patents and royalties than any other university. Last year, Columbia earned nearly $100 million of its $1.5 billion budget from patents and royalties.

The faculty has not resisted – collecting more money for their research means bigger budgets and less dependence on government. There are concerns, however.

“Universities have benefited from the perception that they are outside the marketplace and have credibility because they are seen as disinterested parties,” Eli M. Noam, a Columbia business professor, told the Times. Noam is worried that generating revenue from intellectual property will reduce that credibility.

The change in university culture can be traced to the Bayh-Dole act of 1980, which encouraged universities to commercialize their research with support from the federal government. Columbia and other research universities set up technology licensing offices.

The growth in the Internet has been a big boost to the commercial potential of university research, providing a faster, larger payback than traditional research areas like biology.

Internet companies have already recruited professors for their own projects without going through their universities. Arthur R. Miller, a widely known Harvard Law professor, has agreed to work with a new online law school while remaining at Harvard. Universities are aware of the competition, and are trying to create their own opportunities.

Columbia says it has no plans to force faculty members to cooperate with its members, but hopes they will be a good alternative to working with outside companies.

For the full story, go to the New York Times.

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