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The emergence of open science models for university–industry collaboration

A small but growing number of university–industry research collaborations require participants to share all research outputs freely and openly with the public and to accept that no intellectual property can be claimed on outputs from the partnership. These partnerships are often presented as the future of academy–industry collaboration, but are neither widely known nor much studied. This article introduces the notion of open science models for university–industry collaboration and discusses their potential impact. The ODIN initiative at Aarhus University contributes to illustrate this phenomenon.

Maria-Theresa Norn, Senior Researcher, Aarhus University
Irene Ramos-Vielba, Senior Researcher, Aarhus University
Carter W. Bloch, Centre Director, Aarhus University
Marie Louise Conradsen, Head of Open Science, Aarhus University

A handful of Open Science Partnerships (OSPs) have emerged around the world (Ali-Khan, Jean, and Gold 2018; Ali-Khan et al. 2018; Gold et al. 2019; Gold 2021)They are precompetitive public–private research partnerships but stand out from most such partnerships by adhering to principles of open science. This includes putting all research outputs into the public domain and typically also precluding participants from seeking Intellectual Property (IP) rights protection on any of these outputs. 

Examples of OSPs include the pioneering Structural Genomics Consortium (SGC), but also more recent initiatives such as the Early Drug Discovery Unit (EDDU) at McGill University, the Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI)-funded EUbOPEN Consortium, the Open Plastic research program at Queen’s University, and OpenPlant, a collaborative research initiative between the University of Cambridge, The John Innes Centre and the Earlham Institute.

Another example is the Open Discovery Innovation Network (ODIN), an ongoing initiative administered by Aarhus University and funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation (2020–2023). ODIN has already stimulated interest from funders, universities and firms in the Nordic region, who are looking for new and more effective mechanisms for supporting productive university–industry interactions. Partnerships like ODIN may become more widespread in the coming years, pointing to the need for insight into OSPs and their effects on science-based innovation.

However, OSPs have been the subject of little systematic study. We draw on preliminary insights from an ongoing research project to shed light on the phenomenon and describe how open partnerships may offer a promising supplement to conventional, closed (i.e. IP-based) collaboration models.

The potential of open partnerships

OSPs are often touted as an alternative or at least a supplement to conventional, IP-based collaboration models aimed at achieving what current mainstream approaches to university–industry collaboration are often criticized for failing to do, namely accelerate and strengthen the use of scientific research outputs in industry and society.

The openness principles at the heart of OSPs mark a clear departure from the standard operating procedure in most university–industry collaborations, which are often preceded by lengthy negotiations over the distribution of ownership to any (IP) that may emerge as a result of the collaboration. OSPs have gained increasing interest for two key reasons.

First, OSPs may be effective in mitigating barriers to collaboration. Standard legal frameworks that participants must accept to join an OSP allow academic researchers and firms to quickly and easily enter into collaborations. 

Second, OSPs have been argued to promote greater uptake of research and support innovation in industry by creating a forum in which firms’ needs and challenges can inspire and inform basic research and for firms to share materials and know-how that can help increase the quality and efficiency of scientific outputs as well as their relevance and usability for industry. 

Moreover, OSPs can reduce duplication of efforts by allowing firms to share unsuccessful lines of inquiry. Finally, through open sharing of knowledge, data and other research outputs – and precluding actors from restricting access or use of thereof – OSPs can contribute to a wider dissemination and use of science in industry and society.

The Open Discovery Innovation Network (ODIN)

The Open Discovery Innovation Network (ODIN) is a three-year pilot initiative at Aarhus University (2020-2023), funded by the Novo Nordisk Foundation. ODIN has established a platform for university–industry research collaboration within drug discovery and provides funding for co-created research projects selected on a competitive basis. 

ODIN provides funding for academic partners in these projects, while industry partners (primarily large pharmaceutical companies) fund their own participation through in-kind contributions. A total of 11 collaborative research-based projects have been funded by ODIN, selected on a competitive basis.

Participants share (proprietary) materials and technologies within the projects to produce the open results, although the parties retain ownership over these, and no background knowledge is shared with the public. All data and results generated within ODIN projects must be shared with the public without any restrictions on their further use. No IP rights can be claimed on outputs from ODIN projects. However, participants, as well as any other interested parties, are free to access, use or re-purpose outputs from ODIN funded research, and to develop products that can be commercially protected.

The Danish Centre for Studies in Research and Research Policy (CFA) at Aarhus University is currently undertaking a research-based impact assessment of ODIN, which is expected to be completed in 2023.

Preliminary findings indicate that the active involvement of industry partners in both the design and the execution of projects contributes to collaboration that draws on academic and industrial partners’ complementary skills and resources. The non-negotiable legal framework in ODIN is attributed with reducing experienced barriers to entering into partnerships and to ongoing knowledge exchanges within projects. 

In addition, industry participants can pursue more exploratory, high-risk ‒ but potentially high-gain ‒ projects in ODIN than they would normally pursue. This is expected to result in new opportunities for subsequent R&D that may be pursued by participating academics and firms or by any other interested parties, given that all outputs will be shared freely and widely.

A new avenue to be explored

OSPs represent a clear step away from the closed, IP-focused collaboration models traditionally pursued in many industries. Preliminary insights into OSPs indicate they may offer a promising supplement to conventional, closed approaches to bolstering the production, dissemination and use of scientific research, but there is still limited insight into their outputs and effects. This points to a need for further research that can inform decisions among funders, universities, firms and policymakers.


Ali-Khan, S.E., A. Jean, and E.R. Gold. 2018. “Identifying the Challenges in Implementing Open Science [Version 1; Peer Review: 2 Approved].” MNI Open Research 2 (5).

Ali-Khan, S.E., A. Jean, E. MacDonald, and E.R. Gold. 2018. “Defining Success in Open Science [Version 2; Peer Review: 2 Approved].” MNI Open Research 2 (2).

Gold, E.R. 2021. “The Fall of the Innovation Empire and Its Possible Rise through Open Science.” Research Policy 50 (5): 104226.

Gold, E., S. Ali-Khan, L. Allen, L. Ballell, M. Barral-Netto, D. Carr, D. Chalaud, et al. 2019. “An Open Toolkit for Tracking Open Science Partnership Implementation and Impact.” Gates Open Research 3 (December): 1442.

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