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Peters addresses conference on intellectual properties

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 20 Issue 16 - January 15, 1998

Using university research to enhance economic development is not a fad, Len Peters told faculty members, graduate students and representatives from industry during a December conference.
Peters, who is vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School at Virginia Tech, spoke at the conference on "The Role of Intellectual Properties in University/Industry Partnerships," sponsored by Virginia Tech Intellectual Properties, Inc. (VTIP).
Development of intellectual properties (IP) is a significant sign in the irreversible change in the culture of the university, he said.
He cited the 1988 book, Laboratories of Democracy, by David Osborne, which talked about the way states were taking the initiative in technology development. "Osborne attributed it to the class of '74, which elected a Congress and governors with liberal social views but who were fiscally conservative."
Peters said the Virginia Center for Innovative Technology was started in 1984. "States began picking up on how technologies from university labs could be converted to economic development."
In 1985, the Southern Growth Policies Board, made up of the governors of southern states, wrote a book that looked at the role of technology in economic development.
Peters, then a research administrator at the University of Kentucky, was one of two representatives from Kentucky on a group representing about 15 southern states that discussed the formation of a Southern Technology Council. That council is now made up of people associated with economic-development offices in the states and a few university people.
Ron Carrier, president of James Madison University, was the first chairman of the Southern Technology Council in 1985. "That was my first exposure to the CIT," Peters said.
The council audited technology-transfer policies in the south, measuring what has happened and what has not happened. These audits have impacted the universities, Peters said.
"At one time, universities considered money `greener' if it came from the NSF or NIH, compared to industry funds. That philosophy has completely turned around," Peters said.
He talked about the change in attitude by university administrators toward patents. At one time, they were considered a detriment or distraction to tenure consideration. Few of the people evaluating tenure packages had patents.
"That has changed, and we're not going back," Peters said. "And industry contracts are counted on a par with what comes from federal agencies.
"That change was driven not by universities, but by state government, because they have seen the role technology can play in economic development. The science-and-engineering enterprise that state government can influence is at state universities," Peters said. A second motivation toward industry funding is that federal money is harder to get.
"The transition we've seen in the universities has been positive and healthy," Peters concluded.
Asked in what way the changes have been healthy, Peters said, "Industry funding has broadened the type of research we do, and that has helped prepare students for the job market by allowing them to work on applied activities, and by giving them the opportunity to work in teams of researchers across disciplines. Industry hires people to be creative and to work in groups. How well we prepare students is ultimately what we will be judged on."
Asked whether the recession was also a driving force, Peters agreed, adding, "Also, the Silicon Valley, Rt. 128, and the Research Triangle Park. The governors saw that it took 20 years to develop that level of activity."