28 May 2008   |   News

HP Labs to give grants to university researchers

As part of its recent reorganization, HP is taking Open Innovation to the next level by seeking proposals to fund hot new technologies.

In an increasingly global business world, Hewlett-Packard Co.’s advanced research group, which streamlined and reorganised in early March, is taking the next step to pull in promising new technologies from universities around the world.

HP Labs Open Innovation Office is seeking proposals from university researchers, who will compete to get funding for technologies that match up with HP’s strategic goals: information explosion, dynamic cloud services, content transformation, intelligent infrastructure, and sustainability.

“Collaborating with the brightest minds is essential to making progress in solving the world's most complex technology challenges,” said Prith Banerjee, director of HP Labs, announcing the scheme. “We look forward to reviewing the proposals and investing in projects that drive open innovation.”

Earlier this year HP reorganised its in-house research efforts into 23 distinct labs across seven locations worldwide. It will pursue 20-30 large research projects and 20-30 medium-sized ones instead of the 150 smaller projects in the past, based on insight gained from expanded relationships with universities and other parties.

“The research landscape is shifting toward a model of increased collaboration between academia and the private sector,” said Beth Burnside, vice provost of research, University of California at Berkeley, one institution with which HP Labs has a pre existing relationship. The Open Innovation scheme is expected to deepen relationships with UC Berkeley, Stanford and other universities that HP has worked with in the past.

The university relationships also could amplify HP’s research, said Rich Friedrich, director of the Open Innovation Office in Palo Alto, California. “We want technology solutions for national or global priorities.” About 68 percent of HP’s $107 billion in revenues is now non-US, he said, and the company has labs throughout the world that can work with local researchers. HP is spending $3.6 billion on R&D (before its acquisition of EDS), he added. Its centralised R&D labs have 600 researchers, most in the United States, but about one-third are in Bristol, in the UK.

“I’m getting huge interest in this,” Friedrich said, estimating there could be up to 1,000 proposals. “The key thing is that the sooner we go forward in the collaboration between industry and universities, the sooner we can get results and not just press releases.” He said the company will use standardised collaborative research agreements to handle internships, intellectual property and other matters.

Overseas labs, like the one in Bristol, can drive local relationships and local expertise, such as HP’s strengths in trusted security and digital media clusters in the UK. “We’ve made the programme competitive, so we can work with the best researchers openly and transparently,” said Nick Wainwright, director of innovation, HP Labs Europe in Bristol, UK. He added that he’s also looking for a global scope or impact to the proposals. “The future of the IT industry is so global,” he added.

One of the challenges in meshing the two different research environments of university and industry, and large groups of researchers, is speed. “This is a fast-moving industry. Academics understand that.” Wainwright said, “But large groupings have a certain mass, and we need to find a way to drive it (fast).” He said he expects HP to do a lot more open innovation through partnering in the future.

The first batch of proposals is due June 18 to HP Labs Open Innovation Office, and winners will be notified in late 2008 (see programme guidelines and submissions). Each award will be for one year, and renewable for a total of three years based on research progress and HP business needs. Awards will include support for one graduate student researcher, who also will be eligible to apply to the HP Labs internship programme. Awards will run from $50,000 to $75,000, including overhead.

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