Trilingual Report 2020

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3. Innovation and university-business cooperation

Universities are a key agent for the socio-economic development of a region. Knowledge transfer, recognised as the third mission of universities, has become a fundamental element for development, as it enables the knowledge generated to be transferred to the financial realm. The promotion of the third mission by universities by fostering processes to monetise research results and public-private collaboration in R&D activities are an example of universities’ commitment to society.

The main indicators available in association to knowledge transfer are those related to the protection of knowledge via patents, technology-based start-ups, spin-offs, and research, development and innovation (R&D&I) contracts. These indicators highlight a large part of the efforts that universities are currently making to promote the third mission.

In the 2014-2018 period, 447 priority patents were applied for. In the first four years, applications remained stable at around one hundred patents a year; but in 2018 there was a sharp decline and the number dropped to 46 due to the impact of the new Patent Act 24/2015.

As for the international patent extensions through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), as usual there was also a notable downturn in the last two years of almost 50% from 2016 to 2017, but with a recovery in 2018 with 55 patents through the PCT. Note that international extensions represent a significant percentage of priority applications, which is an indicator of quality.

In 2018 there were 137 active spin-off companies. The number has been rising for the last five years; although some have disappeared, greater numbers have been created. This data shows that universities are continuing to foster the creation of technology-based companies as an instrument for knowledge transfer and wealth generation in the region.

We can also highlight the 96 university-business-society chairs accounted for in 2018, which are often linked to research, and which also benefits knowledge transfer. Such chairs have grown slightly in number over these five years, which reaffirms the commitment to strategic, lasting partnerships between these companies and universities.

Regarding knowledge transfer and university-business partnerships, it should be noted that, from 2014, there was a slightly upward curve in income from non-competitive funds raised by ACUP universities and their associated bodies (research institutes and technology centres), with an aggregate amount in 2018 of €91.4 million. Particularly remarkable is the growth for associated entities, which went from having €15.6 million in 2014 to €21.1 million in 2018, representing 23% of the aggregate amount.

This report includes for the first time an analysis of the contribution by the private sector to the funding of research in the Catalan public university system, where it is observed that 20.8% of the funds raised (€58.8 million) come from the private sector. Private funds are mostly awarded in a non-competitive manner and in 65% of cases come from Spanish for-profit organisations.