Relationship Model

Peer-to-Peer vs. Customer-Vendor Relationship Models

The goal of fundamental research is mutual learning that each party can effectively share and exploit in the framework of its respective mission. A peer-to-peer relationship model supports this goal of mutual learning and knowledge transfer.

Therefore, the most successful sponsored research agreements recognize the benefits of sharing the learning from the research between MIT and the sponsor, within MIT, and with society via publications, while protecting the potential commercial value of research innovations via patents and licensing.

One frequent cause of difficulty in establishing a research relationship between a company and a university is a differing view of the fundamental nature of that relationship.

A customer-vendor relationship cannot provide structural support for these goals. The following table outlines the key differences and major benefits of a peer-to-peer research relationship.

Peer-to-Peer Research RelationshipCustomer-Vendor Research Relationship
Seeks mutual intellectual exchangeSeeks to purchase tangible deliverables or services
Recognizes that fundamental research is inherently risky

Constrains mid-course corrections on unexpected research developments; predefined deliverables and outcomes often cannot be specified at the outset

Recognizes that the research may create broader business opportunities

Research results, which are speculative, cannot have a predetermined fair market value

Values the university’s contribution to the research (e.g., existing expertise and background intellectual property, faculty and student support, and research infrastructure)

Precludes MIT researchers from engaging further in the sponsor’s area of interest, even if that future research were only in part based on the current research

For more detail on this subject, the University-Industry Demonstration Partnership of the U.S. National Academies has published a useful reference on aligning university and industry interests in an effective research collaboration, the Researcher Guidebook.