GateWay program facilitates research-industry agreements

Industry-sponsored university research is beneficial to both parties – to industry for the access to cutting-edge facilities, science and scientists it provides, and to universities for the financial resources and collaborations such partnerships can bring.

One of the nation’s top research institutions, Cornell is attempting to expand its portfolio of industry partnerships by making it more appealing for potential partners to strike an agreement.

To that end, Cornell has rolled out GateWay to Partnership, run through the Office of Sponsored Programs (OSP). This new initiative for industry sponsors aims to encourage collaboration, streamline negotiations for sponsored research agreements (SRAs) and subsequent licenses, and promote technology development and commercialization.

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“One of the goals is to help enhance our reputation with industry,” said Mary-Margaret Klempa, director of OSP. “We want to portray Cornell as ‘open for business’ and easy to work with.”

Launched in September, the GateWay program offers a menu of three options designed to give potential industry partners some assurances regarding their investment and access to intellectual property (IP) that may result from their SRA.

Newly enabled features of the GateWay program include pre-set key financial license terms under the exclusive options in the SRA. Further pre-negotiated terms are also possible for larger grants and for strategic partners. 

In a nutshell, GateWay is attempting to build trust between the university and potential industry partners – trust that sponsoring research at Cornell is a two-way street with the potential for mutual benefits.

“We asked ourselves, what are the things industry wants that we haven’t been able to give them until now?” Klempa said. “Can we reconsider whether we actually can provide those kinds of terms in an agreement?”

Some of those “things industry wants,” Klempa said, included assurances regarding royalty rates – revenue that industry shares with the university for Cornell-developed technology or IP, if an invention or new product resulted from the research.

“Industry partners would often ask, ‘Well, what’s it going to cost me to get access to this technology?’” Klempa said, noting that assurances of good-faith negotiations didn’t always engender a lot of confidence from the industry side.

OSP and the Center for Technology Licensing (CTL) worked together to develop a set of technology-specific royalty rates that are on the table right up front. These rates are considered favorable but still within the market range for different industry sectors.

Emmanuel Giannelis, vice provost for research and vice president for technology transfer and intellectual property, thinks the pre-set terms will eliminate needless negotiation and help build more research collaborations with industry. 

“All we are saying is, ‘We know what this deal is worth. You know what it’s worth – why do a lot of dancing?’” he said. “We don’t want to risk important research funding haggling over pennies.”

Alice Li, executive director of CTL, helped design the program and underscored the importance of partnerships beyond finances. “It’s not only about the terms,” she said. “It’s also about how we work with industry. A lot of it is relationship-building.”

Cornell receives the lion’s share of its research funding from federal agencies – most notably the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. But diversifying Cornell’s funding streams is a high priority for the University and this program will help Cornell increase its research dollars from corporations.

“Lowering any potential barriers to partnerships and enabling research – while protecting the interests of the university, of course – that’s part of my job,” Giannelis said.

“As competition for federal funds becomes more fierce, we have to look at other funding sources,” Klempa said. “That’s one of our goals, to diversify.”

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Jeff Tyson