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It’s flown a bit under the radar, and the two organisations will in theory have identified their preferred collaboration model by the end of the year.

But, the announcement earlier this month that Industrial Research and UniServices (the University of Auckland’s commercialisation company) are to team up is a very interesting move.

Both organisations are in the business of turning ideas into income, with IRL’s focus over the past five years being clearly on helping NZ businesses grow through better use of its physics, chemistry, engineering and applied mathematics capability. UniServices manages all of the university’s intellectual property, and turns some of this IP into new products and companies. It makes most of its money from contract research however, as well as licence royalties from others’ using the university’s ideas.

The Kiwi Innovation Network, Kiwinet, which counts IRL, Plant & Food Research and AgResearch as its Crown Research Institute members, and the commercialisation arms of Otago, Canterbury, Victoria, Lincoln and Waikato universities, as well as the Auckland University of Technology is one attempt to share knowledge, resources and expertise across New Zealand. In other words, to be less silo, less solo, more synergistic.

Whether it has been Auckland wanting to do its own thing, or the rest of NZ being slightly wary of its big brother success, the Queen city’s never been part of the group hug – even it politicians would like it to be.

So, IRL, which makes no secret of the fact that it should be expanding its capability in Auckland and Christchurch as well as building a new Wellington (Gracefield) campus, is looking to do exactly the collaboration that as small a country as New Zealand should and must do.

There’s sure to be areas of expertise and understanding where IRL and UniServices dovetail together very well. IRL in particular has IP which is best suited to a use-by-licence basis. Rather than try to invent what are usually lengthy legal documents from scratch, using UniServices skills (and templates) could save it a power of time and money. Conversely, the applied nature of IRL’s skills is sure to be complementary to the base from which UniServices draws its IP.

Equally, the contacts and connections that both parties bring to the table are invaluable. There's nothing quite like a "you should talk to this person," comment to help move a new initiative along.

Undoubtedly too, there will be a bit of bluff and bluster as both organisations show their cards while working out a collaboration model. That’s to be expected.

For the sake of the country, from two of very few organisations able to help deliver innovation into the high-value manufacturing sector that Sir Paul Callaghan has been championing over the past few months, let’s hope they get it right.

It is much better for these leading organisations to plot their own partnership path, (as is Kiwinet) than the Ministry of Science & Innovation’s attempt to do so under the National Network of Collaboration Centres. The NNCC was touted as an important exercise by MSI late last year, and attempts were still being made earlier this year to get its conceptual model off the ground. Lately the NNCC appears to have died a death however. Arguably, Kiwinet and the IRL/UniServices tie-up is the naturally bred alternative.

Teaming up IRL and UniServices, under circumstances that aren’t a forced marriage, will provide outcomes for New Zealand that are much more beneficial.

Without doubt too, there will also be serendipitous benefits.

That’s what happens when you get clever people paddling the same waka.

Go hard and get on with it you two.

A Wellington and Auckland commercialisation hand-holding proposal more than it seems

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