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HP Labs Director Seeks More Help From Academia


Trying to boost the output of its research labs, Hewlett-Packard Co. wants to get more help from scientists in universities.

HP and other technology companies already collaborate with academics all the time. But HP’s new research director, Prith Banerjee, believes his company’s school partnerships would produce better results if they were more organized.

So under a program beginning Wednesday, Banerjee is creating a more formal structure, with HP acting somewhat like a government agency making a grant. HP will solicit applications from university researchers, then fund dozens of projects for up to three years. Each grant would cover the cost of a graduate student researcher.

Patents from the work done at universities could stay in the schools, but HP would have first crack at licensing the technologies. Or the resulting intellectual property could be made freely available to anyone, as IBM agreed to do in 2006 when it established its own plan for many of its university collaborations.

IBM research spokesman Steven Tomasco also pointed out that his company has formally doled out grants to academics for a long time. “HP is just catching on to this idea?” Tomasco said.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP is the world’s largest technology provider by revenue and spends $3.6 billion annually on research and development. But most of that is incremental product development. For research into further-off ideas in computing, HP’s labs have 600 people, funded with about $150 million a year.

In comparison, IBM employs 3,300 researchers and spent $6.2 billion on R&D last year, though it won’t reveal how much went to each category.

Banerjee took over HP Labs last year and pursued an overhaul, cutting some projects to focus on fewer but bigger bets in such fields as molecular-scale circuits, content management and network-based “cloud” computing. Achieving those goals quickly, he said, will require broader input from academia.

“I am really trying to get the best minds in the world,” he said.

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