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General Principles of Technology Transfer at Dutch UniversitiesEdit


The Dutch universities regard it as a challenge to take new steps in the area of exchanging knowledge with society. As leading suppliers of knowledge, they wish to cooperate in achieving Dutch ambitions. True, the production of knowledge in a knowledge-intensive society has long ceased to be the exclusive domain of the universities. But the university is the place where fundamental and applied research can take place independently and critically. Where, in the past, breakthroughs came from the Bell or Philips laboratories, they now come precisely from academic research. Not in isolation, but securely grounded in society. All universities, without exception, have therefore taken new initiatives in past years in the area of knowledge promotion.

The start-up situation here is good. As stated, the standard of scientific research in the Dutch universities is by and large good to very good. This is clear from international comparisons: where the impact of scientific publications is concerned, the Netherlands scores well. But the situation is nonetheless not entirely problem-free. Because it generally takes ten to fifteen years before a line of research begins to bear fruit. Present performance is therefore attributable to the investment of years ago, and the universities have already been facing cuts for a number of years.

Alignment on knowledge promotion requires choices. Part of university research, for example, is explicitly aimed at social questions. But in the research, also, undertaken through scientific curiosity, choices can be oriented on the question in which areas scientific breakthroughs are also most likely to achieve applications. It is clear from the many joint ventures that will be reported later in this paper – with parties in business, in government or elsewhere – that the universities are making these choices in full spate.

In addition, a good knowledge promotion policy also requires new activities to be undertaken that stimulate the use of university knowledge and research results. New organisations, new structures are required that create new connections. Many examples of these activities can also be found in this paper.

At national level, knowledge promotion activities have been boosted by the so-called Innovation Charter. This charter was signed in November 2004 by the Universities (combined in the VSNU), the employers’ association VNO-NCW and the federation of university medical centres, the NFU. In the Charter, the three parties put forward criteria for cooperation between industry and knowledge institutions. It contains recommendations, for example, for arrangements concerning intellectual property, scientific integrity and publication strategy.

The idea behind the Charter is that innovation demands an effective exchange between business and knowledge institutions. New products and services are in fact often no longer developed in one firm in isolation but are increasingly more often created through an exchange of knowledge amongst the various parties. To reap the fruits of investment – public and private – in research, cooperation is therefore needed more than ever before and the Innovation Charter is intended to offer a foothold towards this.



The range of activities that particular universities have developed in the area of promotion is broad and differs from one university to another. The latter applies above all to the way in which universities have anchored these activities in the organisational structure. Sometimes, promotion is entrusted to a specific central policy department (or more correctly, a centre of expertise). Elsewhere, faculties or institutes may be handed responsibility for knowledge promotion, rather than forming a central organisation. A third option, outsourcing a commercial intermediary, is now rare. In the past, a number of universities gained experience through this, but university research is often still remote from the market and it therefore takes long for investment to be earned back and whether this happens is often uncertain. The result is that commercial intermediaries often see no future for entering this market. In addition, the universities have proved that they themselves can often offer these activities more effectively, faster and cheaper.

More and more universities now opt for a self-contained organisation, generally in the form of a holding company, a private company fully owned by the university. Twelve of the fourteen universities now have a holding company of this kind, and some even have two: one for the medical sector and one for other disciplines. Spin-off firms are housed in these holding companies, formed by staff or former staff and also present or former students of the university concerned, on the basis of the knowledge that the fledgling entrepreneur has gained at the university. Such knowledge is often protected by a patent. Most starters have so far emerged from the medical sciences, the life sciences or bio-pharmacy.

All holding companies are concerned with funding the fledgling entrepreneurs. They invest in spin-offs. Sometimes they hold the entire share capital, sometimes their participation is no more than one percent – depending on the investment required to get a spin-off up and running and on the anticipated yield. A number of universities aim to raise the capital to be invested through a so-called revolving fund, a fund that nourishes itself from the proceeds of earlier investments.

Some holding companies – and sometimes central transfer or liaison departments as well – also indulge in ‘scouting’ university research for results and inventions that can be promoted in one way or another. A number of universities already do so quite regularly, while elsewhere it is done chiefly incidentally or decentralised, through the faculty or research institute.


A subject receiving attention at all universities is patents. At a number of universities, the holding companies are entrusted with everything to de done in this area, elsewhere researchers and fledgling entrepreneurs can put their concerns in this connection to separate transfer or liaison departments; assistance is also sometimes sought ad-hoc, e.g. from a legal department. But be that as it may, support in this field is necessary. First of all, help is required with applications; after all, filling in forms takes time and a routine that these researchers often do not have. Secondly, support is offered in assessing inventions for their commercial viability.

The universities adopt various rules for patent expenditure and income. The law states that inventions made through a university belong to the university. Patent applications are therefore the responsibility of the universities, as is their funding. A number of universities have consequently set up a patent fund. Sometimes, this is a revolving fund. This means that the fund is maintained through the proceeds from earlier patents. Various universities use the proceeds of a patent to reward their ‘inventors’; part of the yield is also often invested in new research by the group concerned. The various arrangements made otherwise appear largely similar on broad lines.

Support for newcomers

All universities help their spin-offs in the facilities area as well. Spin-offs can often be housed in a joint corporate building on or adjoining university premises, where they can hire office space, use the laboratories and equipment and share such facilities as a reception desk and secretarial support. The majority of universities now posses one or more ‘incubators’. These are commercial buildings where newcomers are housed together. Here they not only share a number of facilities but can also obtain all kinds of business support. Newcomers can, for example, obtain help in drafting a business plan or dealing with their PR. They are often also offered coaching and training or assistance with setting up and maintaining business networks.

Contacts with the business world

Universities have for years been undertaking research commissioned by the business world. The income from this (the so-called third cash flow) is growing. A number of universities not only undertake incidental research projects for industry but have also concluded more long-term strategic alliances. The larger firms in particular regard long-term joint ventures of this kind as worthwhile, but various contacts also exist with other social organisations, quasi-government, and the care and services sectors. Also by establishing special, industry-based professorships and by offering postgraduates a dual position with both university and the firm, knowledge is exchanged with the business world at various points.

The medium-sized and small business can often find its way more laboriously to and within the universities. A number of universities have consequently set up an SMB counter, a department where small and medium-sized businesses can come with their queries; counter staff consequently set off in search within the university for persons who can answer these questions. So-called regional directors are appointed with a view to cooperating with the small and medium-sized firm. The SMB counter generally cooperate closely within the region, with the technical universities and various intermediary organisations such as Syntens, amongst others.

Education and entrepreneurship

A good knowledge promotion policy, finally, also includes attention to entrepreneurship. Graduates who start up their own business with the knowledge that they have acquired at the university after all ensure knowledge transfer to society on a very direct basis. That is why universities are increasingly paying attention to entrepreneurship in their tuition. They do so inter alia by offering educational modules or facilitating minors (substantial ancillary subjects) in the area of entrepreneurship. A master’s degree in entrepreneurship will shortly be introduced at three technical universities. Particular senior lecturers who are still working in industry, are also helping universities to fit entrepreneurship into their teaching.

Public Funding Agencies for research and innovationEdit

Offices of Technology Transfer from Public Research InstitutionsEdit

The main technology transfer office of the Netherlands are given hereinafter:

Universiteit Leiden Petra van den Berg tel: 0031 71-5273054

Universiteit Utrecht Mr. R. Linschoten email: tel: 0031 30-2532927

Rijksuniversiteit Groningen /University Medical Centre Groningen email:, Tel: 0031 50 3138000

Erasmus MC Rotterdam drs Steef Blok email: tel: 0031 10-4088155

Universiteit Maastricht Ermo Daniëls email: tel: 0031 43-3882303

Universiteit van Amsterdam Albert Wijnen email:, tel. 0031 20 525 5404

Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam email:, tel. 0031 20 5665056

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam/VU Medisch Centrum Dr. Koen Verhoef email: tel: +31 20 4448499

Radboud Universiteit Nijmegen Arjan Vink email: tel: 0031 24-3611782 UMC: Mw. Dorien Wellen email: tel:0031 24 3618937

Universiteit van Tilburg Mw. Therese van den Heuvel email: tel: 0031 13 4662763

Technische Universiteit Delft Frans van der Meer tel: 0031 15-2786469

Technische Universiteit Eindhoven Wim Bens email: tel: 0031 40-2474822

Universiteit Twente Patrick Welman email: tel: 0031 53-4894899

Wageningen Universiteit Margriet Kleter email: tel: 0031 317 485 629

Open Universiteit Nederland Marga Winnubst email: tel: 0031 45-5762646

Technology Transfer Surveys or PapersEdit

Related AssociationsEdit


Dutch association of Universities, bureau for researchers and networkers concerned with higher education

adress: Lange Houtstraat 2 P.O. Box: 2501 ES, The Hague phone. 0031 70 3021 433 fax. 0031 70 3021 495

Other topicsEdit

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