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Cambridge-MIT comms tie-up gets corporate

Research will have to justify itself

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The Cambridge-MIT Institute (CMI), a joint venture between Cambridge University and MIT, has spun-out one of its cross-pond research groups devoted to working out what the future of the communications industry might look like, as a not-for-profit company, limited by guarantee.

This means the Communications Research Network (CRN) will be owned by its subscribing members, but by right of their subscription, rather than by holding shares. Useful, if you have to grapple with the thorny issues of corporate governance.

But why incorporate at all? After all, an academic/industry partnership doesn't have shares either.

"If we're going to survive, we have to be able to justify our own existence," group chairman David Cleevely said. "It's about being flexible and accountable. We're not looking for subsidies, we will be funding our own research. If it works, we survive."

It also means anyone can join: memberships range from £250 per year for interested individuals to a three-year, £100,000 per year commitment that comes with rights to use any intellectual property generated during the membership.

So far, BT and Fujitsu have joined as founders and, initially, their representatives will also form the board. This will change as more founders join and the group is able to bring in external management.

Cleevely argues that structuring itself like this will mean the company has a diverse knowledge base, making it well positioned to tackle some of the industry's most difficult issues, particularly regulation.

"It could be that a £250 per year member spots the crucial bit of information that leads to a breakthrough," he added.

The main working groups right now include: critical infrastructure protection, telecoms for transport, spectrum, innovations in telecommunications, interconnection, photonics and core-edge dynamics.

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