Forging the future the Fraunhofer way

Author:Catherine Jewell
Position:Communications Division, WIPO

Fraunhofer is Europe’s largest applied research organization. Its research institutes are pushing the envelope on innovation in a dizzying array of fields, including health, security, communications, energy and the environment. From fat-free sausages to the audio and video compression technologies that allow us to listen to music on the go, and from better biopsies for breast cancer patients to... (see full summary)


Alexander Kurz, Executive Vice President for Human Resources, Legal Affairs and Intellectual Property (IP) Management, explains what drives innovation at Fraunhofer and how IP supports it.

Can you give us an idea of the scope of Fraunhofer’s activities?

As an applied research organization, our core mission is to ensure our research has practical application by, for instance, bridging the gap between university and industry. Fraunhofer is made up of 69 research institutes located across Germany and employs around 24,500 staff to work on its wide-ranging research portfolio. We shape technology, design new products and improve production methods and technology in health, communications, security, energy and the environment. We are committed to doing real research for real people. That involves solving existing problems and opening up new vistas for technological development. In that sense, you could say we are in the business of forging the future.

How is Fraunhofer funded and who are your main partners?

As a non-profit organization, Fraunhofer operates under a unique funding model. Thirty percent of our budget – what we call our base funding – comes from federal and state (Länder) government grants. And 70 percent is generated through research with industry, revenues from IP and publicly financed research projects. This forces our researchers to undertake their work with an entrepreneurial spirit. In 2016 Fraunhofer worked with a budget of around EUR 2.1 billion.

In terms of our collaboration with industry, we work with the smallest of businesses – for example, a Bavarian butcher to develop fat-free sausage – and the largest of corporations, including automotive or consumer electronics companies. But the bulk of our partners – around 60 percent of them – are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). These companies are the backbone and “hidden champions” of innovation in Germany.

But we also have very strong links with academia. Many of our scientists actually hold professorships in universities across the country. This creates many opportunities for cross-fertilization: they share the latest Fraunhofer research with their students, and many of their students do their academic research in our institutes.

We have IP framework agreements with around 180 German universities. This allows us to maximize the impact of our work across the country. The agreements simply state that all relevant parties need to be made aware of any new inventions so that an appropriate IP strategy, including royalty arrangements, can be worked out. In...

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