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Paper info: Commercializing Academic Research Results: When a University wants to Further Innovation


Commercializing Academic Research Results: When a University wants to Further Innovation


Anna Launberg

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 27th IMP-conference in Glasgow, Scotland in 2011.


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Keywords: commercialization, innovation, university, research, science
In the industrialized part of the world the efficient promotion of innovation has become a top priority
for governments wishing to strengthen their industrial competitiveness and national economy. The
conception of innovation as a prerequisite for prosperity is not new, but rather an idea that has been
expressed in political debates for decades (Eklund, 2007). What has been changing over the past fifteen
years, however, is the notion of where this desired good is likely to emerge. Increasingly debates on
possible strategies to boost innovation reflect the view that innovations should be based on science. In
other words, the prevalent idea is that scientific discoveries constitute the fertile ground on which
innovation could, and should, grow.
Ultimately, in the focus on science as an integral part of innovation, the role of scientific research and
universities is brought into play. As producers of scientific knowledge, universities are regarded as an
important contributor to, and even a natural starting point for, innovation. Believing that universities
harbor an innovating capacity which has so far not been used to its full potential, policymakers now urge
universities to make serious efforts to facilitate the transformation of scientific knowledge produced
within academia into innovations on the commercial market. Many universities have taken the policy
directions to heart, and are determined to play an active part in creating economic value from academic
In light of this, the overarching question that guides me at this stage of my doctoral project is: what may
be the effect on the surrounding network when a university decides to commercialize academic research
results? To investigate this question I have begun a qualitative case study on the Uppsala PET center. The
PET center is a medical research center, which since its start in 1991, has been of crucial importance to
both the Uppsala University and the public research hospital in Uppsala. The PET center was part of
Uppsala University until 2002, when it was sold to the British biotech company Amersham, which in turn
was acquired by GE Healthcare two years later. During the years that preceded the commercialization a
significant deficit had been accumulating due to the costly operations of the PET-center. Selling the center
to a commercial player was therefore regarded by both the university management as well as the head
researchers at the center as the best way to ensure that the needs of the center, in terms of equipment and
research facilities, would be catered to. The financial gain the sale of the PET center generated was used
to strengthen the new university holding company and its innovation center. While the innovation center
thus was given new financial muscles, the commercialization journey of the PET center turned out to be
troublesome. After a few unprofitable years, which also involved a loss in research edge, the center was
sold by GE to the university hospital in Uppsala in the fall of 2010. It seems that commercialization meant
one thing for the university and quite another for Amersham and GE, and the failure to marry the logics of
science with that of business eventually resulted in the PET returning to public ownership.