The Innovation Ecosystem in Australia is in a state of flux and transition according to the results of the 2015 National Survey of Research Commercialisation (NSRC).
While being mindful that metrics simply tell part of the story when it comes to trends across the research translation landscape, there are some notable points in the data that point to transition or turbulence in the space where public sector research meets industry.
Resources and Inventions
After plummeting from 490 to 306 (38% drop) between 2013 and 2014, the number of staff supporting commercialisation in universities has increased slightly to 333 in 2015. We suspect that this reflects changes in the University sector whereby more effort and resource is being directed towards industry research partnerships rather than commercialisation and that these new, industry focussed roles are not being captured in the NSRC data. Staff levels in the PFRAs and MRIs remained largely unchanged.
Invention disclosures follow exactly the same profile, dropping between 2013/14 before rising in 2015. Invention disclosures are a very short term metric that mirror staffing levels, so it is no surprise – if there is no one to seek out and record the invention, it doesn’t become part of the portfolio.
In contrast to staff and invention numbers, the number of LOAs executed showed the opposite trend, growing significantly (431 to 617) from 2013 to 2014 and then dropping significantly to 480 in 2015. We suspect that LOAs, being an indicator representing typically an 18-month timescale, is reflecting a drop in 2015 resulting from resource cuts in 2014.
University LOA income shows a relatively flat trend, but LOA income tends to develop over a period of 5 or more years and we may anticipate a future drop in LOA income as a result of short term resource cuts. Interestingly, over the 2013/15 period, LOA income for both PFRAs and MRIs have increased significantly (211% and 438% respectively) with PFRAs overtaking the university sector in terms of total income ($89m vs $60m)
Other Industry Engagement
As we have stressed a number of times, whilst important, the relative scale of commercialisation is small relative to all other industry engagement mechanisms. For the whole sector the LOA total was $183m, whereas the total of other engagements was a massive $1.8b. For the University sector the comparison is even more stark, with commercialisation income of $60m and other industry income at $1.2bn, suggesting that commercialisation income represents 5% of the universities’ total revenue, and that the highest value return to the community continues to arise from collaborative partnerships between research and business.
Interestingly, the data mirrors the mindsets of today’s research commercialisation practitioners. The 2016 KCA study exploring the professionalisation of the practice found that 82% of practitioners see the main aim of what they do as being a way to generate relationships with industry and stakeholders. The 2015 NSRC data supports this notion, reflecting a trending a shift in focus from IP commercialisation towards industry engagement, and the realisation that it is collaboration rather than commercialisation, which is the higher value return translation mechanism.
The research sector maintained its commitment to working with industry, as is reflected in the steady growth of researcher training in industry engagement each year. The vast majority of research organisations now offer training to their research staff on how to work with industry, 2015 seeing over 10 000 researchers undertaking some kind of formal training.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating.
UNSW secured $20 million in capital investment from Chinese corporation Hangzhou Cable Co. Ltd. (HCCL). They have established a joint venture with UNSW called Zhejian Handian Graphene Tech, which aims to commercialise the new power cables. This is the flagship collaboration of the new Torch Innovation Precinct at UNSW – an unprecedented partnership with the Chinese government and leading Chinese businesses, expected to deliver more than $100 million to the University over the next 5 years. More here.
Monash University and Woodside have come together to create a globally connected innovation hub that rapidly accelerates advances in Materials Engineering, Additive Manufacturing and Data Science. Woodside will donate $10 million over the next five years in the biggest corporate philanthropic gift in the university’s history. More information here.
Woodside have also partnered with Curtin University to build the Cisco Internet of Everything Innovation Centre to bring together start-ups, industry experts, developers and researchers in an open environment to create ground-breaking and innovative solutions that foster growth, provide jobs and help build sustainable economies. More information here.
La Trobe University and Optus Business have established a strategic alliance designed to deliver an integrated, digitally connected campus; a state-of-the-art Sports Precinct of the Future; and creation of a market leading Cyber Security tertiary degree. More here.
Release of the 2015 data set
The 2015 data set, now available for review via an effective visual comparison tool, and represented by a symbolic infographic depicting some of the 2015 highlights, was released today by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science.
KCA would like to thank the Department and the research translation community for all their efforts in compiling this information each year since 2000, as we continue to build on a highly useful data set depicting trends across research translation mechanisms.
NSRC is the Department’s commitment to recording and tracking Australia’s progress in converting scientific outcomes, and using this information to inform policy, and in the design, creation, and continuation of, programs to support Australia’s vibrant innovation ecosystem.
KCA Executive Director