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Research commercialization

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Credit: John Harwood

A thirst for a fuller and more nuanced understanding of the Universe is a powerful motivation for research. But pursuit of commercial success is also a compelling driver. The ability of these forces to interact and reinforce one another is propelling scientific enterprise forward.

Universities, industry and government, each with their own objectives, cultures and strengths, are locked together in a synergistic embrace that is fuelling a push to extract commercial value from academic research (see page S6). Companies are under pressure to uncover the next business-sustaining product before their competition, and universities are being pushed to deliver a pay-off for their research outlay. As a result, academic institutions are improving their ability to transfer science into the commercial sector (S13). Many are nurturing entrepreneurs, and, in turn, benefiting from the spin-off companies that they launch (S10).

Despite the speed and ease of communication offered by the Internet, researchers still congregate in geographical clusters, suggesting that there is an advantage to proximity that modern technology cannot yet overcome (S40).

Governments are motivated by economic growth, reflected by their status as the principle funders of science and technology. But the economic value of research, and what it means to get a return on research and development, is a matter of discussion (S20). And with science funded by the super-rich on the rise, governments may find themselves facing competition for primacy in funding (S43).

Different parts of the world face different challenges. Despite their research prowess, China (S32) and Australia (S22) have struggled with commercial translation, whereas Europe still needs to better align its policies, habits and business cultures with the goal of efficiently capitalizing on the fruits of cutting-edge research (S30 and S47).

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Brody, H. Research commercialization. Nature 533, S5 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1038/533S5a

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