Transfer of knowledge can increase economic growth – G. Valditara

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trasferimentotecnologico(Speech held during Financial Forum at the Financial University in Moscow, Russia – December 2019)

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to start from the statement of the famous Austrian-American economist Peter Drucker: “The best way to predict the future is to create it”.

Both our countries are increasingly managing to develop an effective research and innovation ecosystem, also with the purpose of stimulating economic growth for a mutual prosperous future.

Research activities are fundamental and have a strong impact on the future of all nations. In this respect, it is crucial to organize in the best possible way all technology transfer activities, also by encouraging single organizations to follow development models that have already proven to be successful.

In the new geography of the European Commission, innovation is closely linked to education. As for innovation and technology transfer, the main problem in Europe is the fragmentation of innovation and the private investments of European companies, which are not enough yet. Additionally, it is estimated that upon 32 million products in Europe per year, only 20% are converted into patents. In order to be competitive, we need to focus more and more on revolutionary or disruptive innovation. Therefore, if we want to enable and promote the development of an efficient ecosystem, we must carefully analyze effective models.

The knowledge driven economy and technology transfer is a new model of economy and development.

During a recent meeting of the Research Policy Group on the knowledge triangle held in Leuven, they brought up some examples of great interest as good practices.

Leuven is a small town with a population of about 100,000 people, and nonetheless it hosts Belgium's largest university.

The model proposed by the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (KU Leuven) is very interesting.

In the 60's KU Leuven took the crucial decision to combine education, research and innovation. In this place, considered a European excellence, basic research is carried out only by University, while industry carries on the development.

More recently a special, autonomous structure was established beside the University (Research Division), with 85 experienced employees in the three areas of ERC, who help professors in preparing projects and products for the market. Each project is evaluated both on scientific and financial basis. This structure is independent from the Academic authorities and has few regulatory constraints.

The revenues of products reaching the market are delivered to the division where every specific product was designed and not to the entire University. The University invested only 12.8 million euros in spin-offs, financed for the main part by other investors.

KU Leuven’s technology transfer office, Leuven Research and Development (LRD), founded in 1972, is one of Europe’s oldest and most successful TTOs and a leader in translational research. In 2014 LRD generated total revenues of €204 million for the university. Its

success is linked to best practice, and also to the strong belief that technology transfer is a core function in a research university.

KU Leuven ranks among the world’s most productive universities in technology transfer. Between 2005 and 2014, industry contracts, licensing and patents generated nearly €1.4 billion in revenues for the university. The university also nurtured and took a stake in 105 spin-outs, which raised €760 million in external capital over the past decade. There were seven initial public offerings. Eighty-seven spin-outs are still active employing almost 4,200 people.

I have in mind two economic models that are complementary and represent the future for our societies: the economy based on knowledge, and the sustainable economy. Sustainable economy is closely linked to the knowledge based one, and of course to renewable energy.

In western countries we can be competitive only by focusing on innovation, rather than on working hours or labor costs.

Technology transfer therefore becomes crucial, involving a close correlation between university and business, a stronger and stronger cooperation.

Yet in order to accomplish this we must emulate what the University of Leuven managed to do. A center dedicated to technology transfer in each university.

Autonomy of transfer centers with academic duties, possibility to remunerate researchers and people working on technology transfer with a private character, few rules and few constraints, great operational flexibility.

No authority or magistrate intruding with paralyzing rules or sentences should be present. In Italy ANAC (National Anticorruption Authority) forces to choose partners for the start up according to a very long and difficult public tender.

This is not the right way to act and leads to nowhere.

We need to change the mentality that considers outrageous a researcher who gets wealthy by exploiting his own research and thus benefiting also his university and society.

The researcher is not a bookworm who lives in a basement, but a resource for the general wealth of society.

Obviously part of the revenues must be reinvested in basic research that remains fundamental and is curiosity-driven.

What we did or what I proposed in Italy?

- The patent activity and the ranking of the single university can be evaluated for the researcher's career. The results obtained in terms of technology transfer are also in the game. Therefore we designed a model of university at the service of society.

- “Innovagorà” Exhibition to raise awareness, promote patents and connect entrepreneurs with scientists.

- Consortium for technology transfer, which is of private nature and with the function of enabling the transformation of patents from brilliant ideas without a future into industrializable products that make a country's GDP grow. The economic future of our countries will therefore pass by our universities.

Let me now conclude my speech with the inspirational words of a worldwide famous Italian explorer who had an innovating and brave approach to life: I am speaking about Christopher Columbus, who discovered the existence of the American continent and consequently promoted an amazing change in the history of mankind. He said: “Those people who see the light before anyone else are condemned to proceed in spite of all other people”.

valditarasmallGiuseppe Valditara

professore ordinario di diritto privato romano

Università degli Studi, Torino

già preside dell’ambito di giurisprudenza dell’Università Europea di Roma