A recent report shows that UK universities deliver £2.97bn in services to business and industry. That's a big number but many of us will not have been involved with those engagements. Why not?
The full answer may be found in the halls of the historic Keble College in Oxford during the inaugural TransferSummit tomorrow and Friday. At this event the questions of "why and how" to create engagement between academic and non-academic partners will be addressed.
The event starts from the premise that academics are usually innovators rather than entrepreneurs. Typically an academic is interested in doing something new, once it's done it is common to move onto the next problem.
For an academic there is little joy in taking a solution to market, only in finding the solution. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, are interested in taking those innovations to the market, or adopting them in their businesses.
Academics and entrepreneurs are different animals, with different priorities and different courtship rituals. Universities have developed a number of strategies for ensuring that their innovations make it to market, and there have been many successes, for example in the last year income from intellectual property almost doubled to £124m whilst continuing professional development (CPD) income rose by 4 per cent to £559 million.
Despite these successes there is always room for improvement, especially in the area of software innovations. As manager of OSS Watch (the JISC funded open source advisory service to the education sector) I am very aware of the range and quality of software developed in the academic sector. This is often funded with public money and with no intention of turning the innovation into a product and going to the market.
As a result a great deal of software innovation remains locked away inside the academic community. Yet our experience has shown that where appropriate software is made available outside the academic sector significant benefits are realised by both academic and commercial partners.
As a proud member of The Apache Software Foundation (ASF) I've seen how collaboration on software can lead to a better solution for all involved.
Each party is able to focus on their own specific needs, benefiting from the sharing of expertise and resources where these needs overlap. This model has produced ground breaking innovations such as the Apache Web Server, which itself was the product of collaboration between academic and commercial partners.
This model produced similar results in over 100 projects in the ASF, whilst similar models can be found in many other organisations such as the GNOME Foundation, the Mozilla Foundation and even the Sakai Foundation in the academic sector.
Another interesting development is the increasing awareness of companies like Microsoft that openness is an important part of their own business models.
With their support of the Codeplex Foundation and the ASF, Microsoft is sending clear signals that even a traditionally closed organisation can find reap rewards from sharing IP across organisational borders.
TransferSummit has been designed to be "engaging, immersive, inclusive and intimate" with a three track programme themed around Innovation, Development and Collaboration.
Our goal is to create a dialogue between academic, not-for-profit and for-profit organisations so that we can all benefit from the services available in UK Universities and Colleges.
For more info on the event see http://transfersummit.com
Ross Gardler is Manager of OSS Watch and Vice President of Community Development at The Apache Software Foundation