EPFL’s Innovation Square is a magnet for ICT companies
Established next to the Science Park (PSE), the five new buildings of EPFL’s Innovation Square are beginning to fill up with tenants. After Logitech announced its arrival in June 2009 and opened the “Daniel Borel Innovation Centre” in September 2010, its largest research centre, companies like Nokia and ELCA have followed through. Beyond the computer industry, companies such as Credit Suisse will also enjoy the neighbourhood with its new “Centre of IT development”, to develop banking applications, in particular for cloud computing.
What are these companies up to? First, best in class scientific expertise. If the EPFL has a Faculty for ICT, the school favours multidisciplinarity, a very useful strategy when developing converging technologies, be it in signal processing, micro-components or software programming. For example, last year, Logitech announced that the research conducted in Lausanne will focus on next-generation interfaces “incorporating computers, television and smartphones,” according to Julien Labrousse, Logitech Europe President. Thanks to the work in the field of acoustics carried out by a young defector from the Fraunhofer Institute, Christof Faller, Logitech has put his hand on MP3 Surround, an augmented version the of the audio compression standard that is now equipping its high-end webcams.
In recent years, the EPFL has set up a partnership model favourable to industries. A strategy that owes much to Adrienne Corboud Fumagalli, Vice President for innovation and development since 2008. “About 7% of our research budget is generated by industrial partnerships. That is equivalent to Stanford,” says Adrienne Corboud Fumagalli. Her team has deployed various measures to facilitate the transfer of knowledge to market, especially “research contracts”, which give industrial partners rights to file patents for invention resulting from their partnerships with the EPFL. Given the number of competencies on the Lausanne campus, opportunities seem infinite. The EPFL is also host to a national research centre on information systems and mobile communication in which Nokia, for example, is a partner.Talent Pool
While in Europe, software is not considered as a patentable invention, many areas lead to the creation of intellectual property. In this domain many tenants of the Innovation Square have experienced great successes while collaborating with the school. For example, ELCA established a longstanding collaboration in the field of data security that gave birth to SecuTix, a microscopic image technology used for the secure home printing of tickets, that has been adopted by the Swiss national railroads CFF-SBB.
Defined by Logitech as an “innovative ideas box that will allow the emergence of projects and solutions to distinguish ourselves from the competition,” the EPFL also represents a very interesting talent pool. Therefore, the brains transfer from the school bench to the industrial partners’ offices is a clear target. “Our goal is that the tenants of the Innovation Square favour hiring trained researchers from EPFL,” says Adrienne Corboud Fumagalli. Talents all the more precious for ICT companies that they do not abound in Switzerland as elsewhere.