Share this story
Close X
Switch to Desktop Site

Industry -- university rough spots

Has public interest been sacrificed in some industry-university relationships? A review of recent cases suggests that enough is at stake to warrant public vigilance.

* In 1974, Harvard University got $23 million in research assistance from the Monsanto Corporation, and in turn gave patent rights to any ensuing discoveries to the company. A critic charged that the university thus violated a policy that ''no patents primarily concerned with therapeutics or public health may be taken out . . . except for dedication to the public.''

About these ads

* Under a 1980 agreement with Exxon Research and Engineering Company, MIT retained the right to file patents on all technology developed as a result of Exxon-supported research on coal and oil in the next l0 years. The institute, however, will grant Exxon and its affiliates an irrevocable, worldwide, nonexclusive, royalty-free license for use of all patented technology. MIT will share in any royalty income. This arrangement is more typical than the Harvard-Monsanto pact.

* Seventeen microelectronic companies will help finance (to the tune of $12 million) a new Center for Integrated Systems at Stanford University in Palo Alto , Calif. 'An interesting feature of this arrangement,'' according to an article in the May 28 issue of Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, ''is that the center's corporate sponsors will be entitled to have their own scientists on site full-time, thereby providing them with virtually unprecedented access to graduate students and academic research in progress.''

This is similar to the agreement between Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Hoechst AG, a West German chemical company. The German company has the right to have up to four of its people in training at the MGH institute at any one time and also provides for regular meetings for sharing information with other company representatives.

* MIT and Edwin C. Whitehead, founder of the biomedical instrument firm Technicon, have recently announced that the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research will be established as an independent entity next to the MIT campus in Cambridge, Mass. But the director of the new institute, Prof. David Baltimore, and 15 to 20 members of its staff will hold MIT faculty appointments.

Some members of the faculty have objected strenuously that this arrangement compromises the university's integrity.

Dr. Kenneth Smith, the MIT associate provost and vice-president for research, maintains that ''the process that was followed was remarkably open. A year in advance of signing agreements [with Whitehead] the administration initiated discussions with the Biology Department, which formed a committee to review the pros and cons. There was full and open discussion in the department, and obviously throughout the university.'' Dr. Smith added in a Monitor interview that the joint faculty arrangement will ensure that Whitehead Institute appointments ''will be subject to all of the usual MIT procedures'' and will ''meet all of the usual criteria for MIT faculty.''

Critics remain concerned that, in the words of MIT Prof. David Noble, ''an independent, privately controlled entity'' is being given 'an unheard-of degree of accesss to and control over university-based research' and that this ''has significance and implications that extend beyond the groves of academe.''

Follow Stories Like This
Get the Monitor stories you care about delivered to your inbox.