LIEU Network by Thomas Wilmet

In a perfect world, companies and scientific research centers would be able to communicate and cooperate efficiently thanks to a common platform and infrastructure. Twenty years ago, this would have been just a dream but technology gradually became available, and the LIEU Network initiative (Liaison Entreprise Université) was launched in 2003 to solve that issue.

The name captures explicitly its purpose: to link the researchers of the academic world with companies of the trade and industrial world. The LIEU Network’s focuses on such fields of activity as: agro-food industry, materials, social and human sciences, energy and environment, health and life sciences, and digital technologies. The universities that participate in the LIEU Network are the UCLouvain, the ULB, the ULiège, the UMons, the UNamur and Saint-Louis University.

We had the opportunity to speak with Olivier Vande Vyver, Operations Director of the LIEU Network. He told us how it all began.

In 2003, Rectors from all Belgian universities gathered around to discuss how to best exchange information around joined projects with the world of private corporations. One of their goals was to derive greater value from the research being performed in their academic department. It is from that initiative that the LIEU Network was born. Work groups were thus created within the Rectors’ Council to discuss issues related to research and its valorization, innovations and intellectual property. A problem that still remained at that time was that all universities were not on equal basis with one another regarding the research valorization departments. As such, the LIEU Network was given a subvention from the Walloon region in 2005 to build the adequate infrastructure for the project’s success and to ensure the presence of a member of the LIEU Network in every partner university. In 2007, the LIEU Network received the European commission’s support through the MIRVAL project (MIse en Réseau de la VALorisation). In 2014, the LIEU Network took again a step forward by offering a deeper support framework to corporations that requested help for a project.

During these years, the LIEU Network started to be known by companies. Currently when a company seeks advice from them for a project at a particular location, the LIEU Network will organize and structure contacts through working groups focusing on the specific matter at hand and on all impacts it could have on the region. Then the search for the right universities and their laboratories starts, in line with the corporations’ needs. Help for research funding can also be provided to corporations if needed, as well as legal advice. So in short, thanks to the creation of that cooperative climate between universities and between universities and corporations, the LIEU Network is able to link the companies with the research center most appropriate to their needs.

What’s more the LIEU Network’s role is not limited to corporations as it extends to researchers, notably to help them deal with intellectual property questions.

Typically, when a researcher finalizes an invention for a corporation, who owns the intellectual property? The researcher himself? The university? Or the corporation that sponsored and potentially funded the project? Usually the question of intellectual property of searchers work is left to the university itself, and the LIEU Network does not interfere. What the LIEU Network can do in this situation is to provide the universities tools to deal with intellectual property. We can mention for example: the material transfer agreement, the technology readiness level, copyright protection and the IP charter of the LIEU Network and the UWE.

The results so far are very positive. According to the LIEU Network business review in 2018, 2211 researchers have been sensitized to the knowledge transfer and process problematic and 681 research agreements were established thanks to the LIEU Network. And concerning companies, 1164 were put in contact with the adequate researchers which led to 168 inventions disclosures.

In conclusion, the LIEU Network is a free service that both corporations and the academic world can use to deal with copyright problems, intellectual property management, legal aspects, research funding, etc. As a gateway between universities and corporations, it offers tools to facilitate the contact between them and helps to fulfill both the academic world and the corporations’ needs.