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Truth for Its Own Sake: Academic Culture and Technology Transfer at Johns Hopkins University

Truth for Its Own Sake: Academic Culture and Technology Transfer at Johns Hopkins University
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    Truth for its own Sake:Academic Culture and Technology Transferat the Johns Hopkins University Maryann Feldman   andPierre Desrochers *  Johns Hopkins UniversityAbstract: American research universities have long been a source of technical advancefor industry yet there is little historical perspective on university-industry relationships,specifically how university objectives and institutional culture influence technology transfer.This paper examines university policy and practice towards technology transfer at one Americanresearch university, the Johns Hopkins University. Established in 1876 as the first researchuniversity in the United States, Hopkins was dedicated to advance knowledge through scientificdiscovery and scholarship. An organizational culture developed that did not support interactionwith industry. This paper examines the development of this academic culture beginning theuniversity’s founding vision and documents its persistence. The intention is to expand the debateof the role of the university in the national system of innovation by considering a detailedexample of one university that has not historically embraced industrial outreach.September 2001 Acknowledgements: We wish to acknowledge funding support from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundationfor this paper as part of a larger project on evolving university–industry relationships. We are indebted tothe technology transfer personnel and research administrators at Johns Hopkins University, for generouslysharing their time and expertise in identifying salient issues. The views expressed in this paper are, of course, those of the authors, and do not represent the positions of any of the university, the individualsinterviewed, or the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. This paper has benefited from discussions withIrwin Feller, Janet Bercovitz, Richard Burton, Darren Lacey and James Simpert. We wish toacknowledge the comments of the anonymous referees. * Johns Hopkins University. Correspondence should be addressed to Feldman at 136 New Engineering Building3400 N. Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218:Phone: 410 516 8324: Email:   1  I. Introduction  Research universities have long served as a source of technical progress for industry.Facilitating technology diffusion and increasing economic growth were justifications for theBayh-Dole Act of 1980, which established the rights of American research universities to retainownership over intellectual property developed from federal research grants. As a result,American universities have embraced closer interaction with industry in terms of sponsoredresearch, technology licensing and the formation of start-up companies (Mowery et al. 1999 provides an examination of these trends). Clark (1998) has coined the phrase entrepreneurial universities to describe the series of changes that reflect the new, more active role of promotingtechnology transfer within national systems of innovation.Critics argue that this new role for universities may inhibit intellectual freedom, foster  public mistrust of science and scientific objectivity and detract from the university’s fundamentalmission (Slaughter and Leslie 1997). Nelson (2001) questions the long-run effects on the U.S.system of innovation. While scholars have examined these issues from different analytical perspectives 1 , the objective of this paper is to add an historical perspective to the discussion of the role of the research university in the American system of innovation. While much has beenwritten about pro-technology transfer culture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology andStanford University 2 , our focus is a research university that emphasized basic scientific researchand scholarly publication. Indeed, the university culture was anathema to commercial activityand direct technology transfer. Understanding the counterfactual case of a university that did not 1 See, for example, Brooks and Randazzese (1998), Etzkowitz and Peters (1991), Etzkowitz and Peters (1997),Feller (1990), Geiger (1993), Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable (1986), Lee (1998), , Rahm(1994), Slaughter and Leslie (1997).   2embrace relationships with industry provides an appreciation of the diversity of culture andorientations of American research universities and their role in the system of innovation.Johns Hopkins University, established as America’s first research university in 1876, wasdedicated to promoting what Merton (1979) described as the norms of open science. Thistranslated into unwillingness to allow commercial interests to influence faculty research agendas,abhorrence to benefit financially by patenting or commercializing university research and arms-length relationships with industry . While the university prides itself on scientific breakthroughsthat led to useful commercial applications, these discoveries, however significant, brought nodirect economic benefit to the academic researchers or to the university. 3 Instead, they representa different model of technology transfer and an alternative role for the university in the nationalsystem of innovation.  I Persistent Evidence of Academic Culture toward    University-Industry Interaction Culture is an attribute of organizations that brings underlying values into focus andinfluences patterns of behaviors and performance (Smircich 1983). Culture, once defined, isalso remarkably persistent and resistant to change. Examining the performance of Italianregional governments, Putnam (1993: 121) concludes that, “Social patterns plainly traceablefrom early medieval Italy to today turn out to be decisive in explaining, why on the verge of the 2 See for example, Rosegrant and Lampe (1985), Roberts (1991), Leslie and Kargon (1996).   3twenty-first century, some communities are better able than others to manage collective life andsustain effective institutions”. Even after other attributes are accounted for, history, the strengthof tradition and social patterns of interaction are powerful explanatory influences on performanceand adaptability.Johns Hopkins University ranks as the nations’ single largest recipient of federal R&Dexpenditures, almost twice as much as MIT or Stanford University 4 . Despite this strength, theuniversity lags behind a cohort of similar universities in measures of technology transfer  performance such as number of patents granted, licensing revenues or university-based spin-offs(Feldman forthcoming). While academic culture is difficult to quantify, public statementssupport the idea that the academic culture has not historically encouraged direct involvementwith industry in active technology transfer.At Hopkins, the vice-provost for research at the university is responsible for technologytransfer. Jared Cohon, vice provost for research at Hopkins from 1988 to 1992, and currentlyPresident of Carnegie Mellon University, said, “There’s just been a different kind of culture here.I can’t explain why it happened that way, but I accept it as real. We’ve [Hopkins has] always been a basic research, individual-investigator, federally-funded institution, the kind of place thatemphasizes the creation of knowledge for its own sake” (Levine, 1990: 26). Reflecting on more 3 For example, heparin, a drug used to prevent blood coagulation that is now widely used in the treatment of thrombosis and in cardiac surgery, was discovered in a series of experiment between 1916 and 1918. Merbromin,discovered in 1919 at the School of Medicine was developed and marketed as Mercurochrome by the Baltimore firmof Hynson, Westcott & Dunning. Similarly, research at the School of Hygiene and Public Health led to thediscovery of vitamin D in 1922 and set the stage for an effective polio vaccine in the 1930 and 1940s. For Hopkinsacademic breakthroughs, see:;; 4 See, National Science Board (1999: Table 6-4). The university includes research expenditures at the AppliedPhysics Lab when calculating total R&D expenditures.   4than 40 years at various divisions of the university, Theodore Poehler, current vice-provost for research, said, “Historically, Hopkins has eschewed turning inventions into commercial ventures.Hopkins was a place where you would come to be an academic person and do research, andthat’s that. Most people here today are still here for that reason” (Cavanaugh Simpson, 2001:16).Recent speeches by Hopkins’s President William Brody echo this sentiment and highlightthe tensions of university-industry relationships. In a speech titled “From Minds to Minefields: Negotiating the Demilitarized Zone between Industry and Academia,” Brody (1999) cautiouslynotes that university-industry relationships are likely to continue to be tentative and uneasy, a“minefield of potential conflicts, claims and counterclaims.” He identifies four contentiousissues: 1) what can and should be patented; 2) should universities patent at all; 3) whether theuniversity should be licensing any intellectual property; 4) if the university is to license, should it be on an exclusive basis?” He concludes,“Our scientists are by nature explorers-- they are off sailing uncharted seas in search of discoveries. Asking them to become managers, marketers and accountants is unrealistic andultimately inimical to the research enterprise. Time spent in the boardroom is time away from thelaboratory, making them less productive and less likely to achieve the things most suited to their abilities…When Hopkins scientists discovered restriction enzymes, one of the basis of the biotechnology industry, we put the discovery in the public domain--losing millions and millionsin potential royalties. Foolish? Perhaps. But I know we didn't slow science down or diminish theleading role American industry plays in this field.” (Brody 1999).These contemporary statements have historical srcins in the founding mission of the universityand the context of early commercial activity.In order to understand the Hopkins’ institutional culture, this paper begins by examiningthe founding mission of the university and the view of early leaders towards interaction withindustry. The paper then turns to the discovery and commercialization of Saccharin to examine
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