Annual survey shows strong national performance in knowledge transfer

10th September 2020

KTI’s 2019 Review and the findings of its Annual Knowledge Transfer Survey (AKTS), published today, shows a strong national performance in knowledge transfer. With support for research commercialisation in RPOs (Research Performing Organisations) through the Enterprise Ireland TTSI programme, managed by KTI, the system is producing consistent outputs year on year. RPOs include Universities, Technological University, Institutes of Technology, Colleges, and other State-funded entities undertaking research). However, there has been an uplift in the number of ongoing collaborative research projects between industry and Research Performing Organisations with 2,163 live at year end.  There were 26 spin out companies from RPOs in 2019 and a cumulative 123 spin-outs that are three or more years post-formation and active. Revenue from licensing of RPO intellectual property in 2019 was €2.7 million, up from €1.7 million, 2018. 

Commenting, Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment, Leo Varadkar said “Never has the ability to adapt and innovate been more important for Irish businesses. Covid-19 has radically transformed the trading environment of most companies. This Report demonstrates the importance of sharing state-funded research to help enterprise in practical, useful ways. Ireland is increasingly seen as a leading innovator, placing 9th in the EU. Collaboration and knowledge sharing will be even more crucial in the months ahead as businesses continue to manage the challenges of both Covid and Brexit.”

KTI plays a key role in ensuring the knowledge transfer environment and frameworks are appropriate to help get technology, ideas and expertise from State-funded research into the hands of business and entrepreneurs, swiftly and easily for the benefit of the public and the economy.  The objectives for Irish knowledge transfer are described in the national policy for research commercialisation: to maximise the uptake of technology, IP and ideas to drive innovation in companies (existing and new) leading to economic and social benefit.  Knowledge transfer can provide a cost-effective means through which companies, regardless of size, can build on key areas of innovation capability.  In doing so, it can boost the percentage of total revenue that comes from new products/services and help companies reach that tipping point at which productivity increases.

Annual Knowledge Transfer Survey

As part of its work, KTI collects and analyses data from Ireland’s eight universities, one Technological University, eleven Institutes of Technology and four further colleges and institutions engaged in research, to produce the Annual Knowledge Transfer Survey (AKTS) in conjunction with the Higher Education Authority (HEA). The survey covers activities including licensing, research collaboration, consultancy and spin-out company creation.

Key 2019 findings:

  • Over 1,200 new agreements were signed with companies for R&D projects.  When access to expertise through consultancy agreements is included the total figure for new contracts entered into between companies and RPOs increases to over 2,000.
  • The new R&D engagements were with over 900 individual companies. 84% of these engagements were with Irish companies and 73% were with Irish SMEs.
  • 2,000 ongoing research collaboration projects live at 31 December 2019.
  • 210 licence, option and assignment agreements (LOA) signed with companies.
  • Revenue from licensing increased by €1m to €2.7 million in 2019
  • There were 26 new spin-outs formed and 123 Active spin-outs (three or more years post-formation) employing an estimated 1,000 FTE.

Licensing activity remains on track: In 2019, there were 210 licence, option and assignment agreements (LOAs) signed with companies, in line with five-year averages. Of these, 77% were with Irish companies and 50% of all LOAs were signed with Irish SMEs. Patents and software remain the major types of intellectual property licensed, at 34% and 17% respectively. 2019 saw 26 new product and service launches on the market by companies as a result of a licence from an RPO.

The number of spin-out companies is in line with five-year trends: There were 26 new spin-out companies formed in 2019. The majority of spin-outs (73%) were created in six universities. Two of these arose jointly from UCC and Teagasc. There were 123 “Active Spin-out” companies from RPOs (i.e. spin-out companies that are three years or more post-formation and that employ staff and have investment and/or turnover) at the end of 2019. Active Spin-outs are estimated to employ (a conservative) 1,000 people. The majority of Active Spin-outs (79%) have been in existence for over 5 years, with 12% older than 15 years. One university spin-out was acquired in 2019.

The number of new R&D agreements entered into with companies is largely steady state: in 2019 1,262 new contracts were signed. Of these, 84% were with Irish companies and 73% were with Irish SMEs. The volume of research collaboration projects ongoing with industry at the end of 2019 shows a marked increase of 18% over the previous year.

Commenting, Dr. Alison Campbell, Director of KTI, said  “Knowledge transfer is an important component in the innovation ecosystem and this year’s report shows that companies and entrepreneurs see the value in engaging with the research base. Overall, the 2019 findings show that in Ireland the research ecosystem is stable and producing solid results with many of the key indicators showing increases or remaining broadly in line with previous years.

R&D collaboration has always been vibrant, helped in great part by the fantastic range of supports available. This year is no exception with an increase in the number of ongoing collaborative research projects with RPOs and a steady stream of new collaboration agreements signed. Innovation through research is thriving and is an important contribution to the competitiveness of Irish companies and multinationals based in Ireland.

A recent review confirms that KTI and the Enterprise Ireland TTSI programme have important roles in supporting and strengthening research commercialisation. We look forward to this enduring in 2020 and beyond and to seeing the potential for exciting new companies and innovations that arise in the State funded research developed for the benefit of society and the economy.”

The KTI Review and Annual Knowledge Transfer Survey (AKTS) can be accessed here on the Knowledge Transfer Ireland website.