Intel Spreads Its University Research Bets

3 Feb 2011 Sandeep Mehta

NY Times had a brief article on open innovation in Intel Spreads Its University Research Bets.

So Intel, the chip giant, has decided to take a more distributed approach to financing university research. The company said this week that it would pour $100 million over the next five years into projects at universities. Each of the projects will involve a few Intel researchers, typically four, with far-flung teams of researchers from several universities.

One key lesson here is teaming between Intel and academic teams.  I think this is key to avoiding foreign body rejection in open innovation.  Some Intel team members will feel ownership is the accessed innovation and will probably be proponents to get the innovation integrated into internal R&D.  Another advantage here is that internal researchers remain “fresh” and involved in innovation.  I think this is a great idea.

Intel has been accessing innovations from universities just like other companies.  As the Intel press release points out, the old approach was to have collaboration centers near universities. The new approach is to set up innovation centers that are jointly run by the university and Intel.

Until now, Intel Labs ran open collaboration centers near research universities and a substantial portion of the company’s funding focused on operating, maintaining and staffing these facilities. The new centers will be Intel-funded and jointly led by Intel and university researchers. They are designed to providemore dollars in the hands of researchers, and to encourage tighter collaboration between academic thought leaders in essential technology areas such as visual computing, security and mobile computing.

This is an intriguing idea.  Clearly, having universities integrally involved in management will add to the innovative environment.  However, it will also reduce control and visibility because the environment will be less structured.  Another interesting idea is the focus of innovation.  As you can see above, Intel has already defined the areas in which it will access innovation.  This will hopefully help provide some structure to these centers.  They have even a tighter focus on the first center:

As an initial step, Intel Labs also announced that Stanford University will be the hub for the first center, which will focus on improving visual computing experiences for consumers and professionals. Researchers at Stanford will collaborate with a community of researchers from seven other universities. The recently introduced 2nd Generation Intel® Core™ processor with combined visual and 3-D graphics will be a key R&D platform for researchers to develop innovations which improve the quality and the way images are captured or created, manipulated or interpreted and ultimately displayed to the viewer.

I look forward to seeing how this experiment works out. Clearly, we can learn a lot from this.

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