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Columbia's Tech Transfer Expands Global Reach with Partnerships

By Loralee Nolletti

In an effort to expand the worldwide reach of its technology transfer capacity and translate this knowledge to broad use in society, Columbia has developed the International Innovation Initiative (I3), a means of fostering collaborative partnerships with other research institutions. The aim of I3 is to extend the impact and speed the use of university-generated knowledge.

The newest of Columbia's research partners is Karolinska Institute, Sweden's only university with an exclusive focus on medicine. The partnership with the Karolinska Institute was formalized on Dec. 17, 2001. The institute's research accounts for approximately 45 percent of the country's total state-funded medical research. Other members of the I3 consortium include McGill University in Quebec, Ben Gurion University in Israel and the Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) in Taiwan.

I3 connects a selection of premiere academic and related research institutions to link and bundle research discoveries and technology, create enhanced knowledge products and intellectual property and speed knowledge products to use in patent pools and spin-off enterprises. The I3 consortium is working to map and match technologies produced by network members to create new opportunities for knowledge transformation. The breadth and international reach of the network enables new relationships among disparate institutions.

"We realize that universities are isolated and are often spread out over a huge number of disciplines with thousands of research projects in thousands of areas so that the resulting inventions are narrow in focus and, consequently, of small impact," said Michael Crow, executive vice provost who has been directing the University's technology transfer efforts. "In collaborating with an institution like Karolinska, we hope to capitalize on our collective range of interests to capture a higher level of inventive energy, not just at the scientific but at the invention level. Together we can have real value for society whereas alone we would have little."

Columbia, having earned $1 billion in royalties, license fees and research payments since 1984 when it set up its tech transfer office, has taken a lead in the shaping the consortium's broad social objectives. The University has reinvested its earnings into research that furthers broad technological, scientific and social advances that improve the quality of life. Columbia research has been crucial to the development of an array of technologies: the digital video compression standard MPEG-2; a laser-based process to revolutionize semiconductor manufacture and flat-panel display screens called sequential lateral solidification (SLS); a co-transformation process that creates new proteins to develop new drugs used to treat heart and stroke problems, breast cancer, cystic fibrosis, anemia multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, infertility and hemophilia; the number one treatment for glaucoma in the United States; an antibody approved for Crohn's disease, and others.

Columbia was the only academic institution involved in the development of the MPEG-2, which allows the transmission of high-quality video and audio over limited bandwidth and is the standard on which HDTV is based. MPEG-2 is used in broadcast and DVD disks. The success of getting this technology from laboratory to marketplace was the result of the University's collaboration with key industry partners including Fujitsu Ltd., General Instruments Corp., Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co., Mitsubishi Electrical Corp., Philips Electronics N.V., Scientific-Atlanta Inc. and Sony Corp.

I3 is intended to demonstrate that there is strength in numbers and that sharing knowledge can have impact around the globe. Working alone Columbia produces a set number of discoveries and innovations. But the University's experiences with technologies such as MPEG and partnerships with Eli Lilly, British Diabetes Association-University of Oxford and L'Institut Pasteur have demonstrated that transfer of technology from research to application can move more rapidly through a collaborative process. By pooling patents and through collaborative licensing, Columbia can increase the usage and impact of its research, and, ultimately, speed important technologies to practical use in society.

"Although it's difficult to measure, the aim is to benefit society in the end. That's the main driver," said Crow. "We are looking to speed the process of discovery, which is disappointingly slow in moving from development to application. Universities work outside the market and most discoveries seem too small to get considered on an individual basis, but if we enhance discoveries with other institutions that aggregate intellectual capacity would have greater impact. And tying together the inventions of international institutions utilizes this inventive capacity on an international scale and not just on a local level."

I3 is the newest of three units within Columbia Innovation Enterprises (CIE), founded in 1982 under the name of the Office of Science and Technology Development after the passage of the 1980 Bayh-Dole Act, granting universities rights to intellectual property developed with government funding. Jack Granowitz, former senior technology advisor in the Office of the Executive Provost and executive director of CIE from 1988 to 2000, leads the new initiative.

"Columbia's well established technology transfer program demonstrates that we know how to put together complex academic-industry collaborations on a global scale. And Columbia's activities have benefited the faculty, further research projects and the public in general," said Granowitz. "It is difficult in this complex world for one university to have all the resources to rapidly move forward new innovations, and this requires academic centers to work together to produce new technologies. I3 provides the means for making this happen and for bringing in corporate partners at an earlier stage in the process."

I3 members will also act as consultants in the area of technology transfer, promoting knowledge transfer at emerging academic research centers by inviting selected institutions to join as affiliates. Affiliates can benefit from an integrated set of technology transfer support services informed by the expertise and experience of Columbia and other partners. These consulting services to affiliates include advice and assistance in operations assistance, technology review and effectiveness assessment.

Published: Jan 21, 2002
Last modified: Sep 18, 2002

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