Universities and firms

In the New York Times today, a review of recent trends of corporations allying with universities on more basic research with investments in the hundreds of millions. This has drawn some criticism:

CRITICS of corporate-university partnerships fear limits on academic freedom or, worse, that companies might censor results that go against their interests. The risk of such interference seems small, however. Despite the large amount being offered by BP, the money will be divided three ways; of Berkeley’s annual research budget of $500 million (nearly all from the federal government), BP will be contributing less than 3 percent.

Under the terms of the partnership, meanwhile, Berkeley professors are free to publish results of BP-funded research. The university also will own the rights to any resulting intellectual property. BP would even have to license that intellectual property, though payments are capped and the company would get the first look at promising results.

The alternative to corporate funds is for universities to rely even more on government funds. And that raises parallel issues in the minds of some academics. The idea that government funding plays no role in prioritizing research “is completely at odds with reality,” says Michael Crowe, the president of Arizona State University.

With weak rights like these, it can hardly be said that this is some drain on academic freedom. The surprising thing is that corporations are happy to spend the money given the freedom they are allowing.

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