Innovation

The CNRS is a key player in innovation, both in France and worldwide. Finding applications for research results ensures that scientific advances benefit society, which is one of the missions entrusted by the French government to the CNRS. Innovation is founded on the scientific excellence of laboratories engaged in productive interaction with industrial actors. Each year this original model generates inventions, technologies, and start-ups that contribute to the nation’s wealth.

A Leader in Innovation

Innovation comes from laboratories that perform basic research. The successful patent applications filed by CNRS researchers make it one of the world’s most innovative public organisations.

2nd most innovative global research institution
+ 130 joint research structures with companies
+ 1,400 start-ups created by laboratories

(since 1999)

Research behind innovation

Many of the discoveries that have led to breakthrough innovations stem from basic research, across all disciplines, from molecular biology and information technology, to particle physics, sociology, etc. This long-term research work, at the frontiers of knowledge, fosters important changes in our societies. These advances, which drive innovation, alter our everyday lives. A few examples in images :

Patents on the rise

CNRS researchers are inventors who successfully apply for an increasing number of patents. Their number and quality make the National Centre for Scientific Research one of the world’s primary innovators. Batteries, biomarkers, cosmetics, robotics, imaging, and HIV are the most prolific fields in terms of patent filings. The CNRS is committed to technology transfer, and grants licences for its patents to be used by industrial actors and entrepreneurs. The vast majority of licences are accompanied by scientific partnerships. 

Out of more than 5,600 patent families, 30% are filed in joint ownership with a private partner.

Michel Mortier, Chief Technology Transfer Officer

Technology transfer at the CNRS goes back a long way

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While he was at the Office national des recherches scientifiques et industrielles et des inventions (forerunner of the CNRS) in the 1930s, the physician, biologist, and inventor of micro-photography Jean Comandon analysed the movement of animal cells using cameras coupled with microscopes. © Fonds historique / CNRS Photo library

 

1939 from the early days of the CNRS, researchers filed patents and worked with industry
1967 a first technology transfer department saw the light of day at the CNRS (Anvar), the forerunner of BPI France
1992 the CNRS launched Fist SA, its national technology transfer company
1996 the CNRS regional Partnership and Technology transfer departments were established
1999 the “Allègre law” enabled researchers to set up companies
2011 the CNRS Medal of Innovation was introduced
2015 the Technology Transfer Office reporting directly to the CNRS president was created
2018 Fist SA became CNRS Innovation

An organisation structured for innovation

The CNRS’s policy reflects its commitment to supporting groundbreaking innovation from its laboratories. It was the first research organisation to create a dedicated technology transfer department for research results. The institution plays an essential role in the French innovation landscape, in collaboration with multiple partners.

Promoting technology transfer

18 M€ dedicated each year to technology transfer

(exclusive of salaries)

300 CNRS staff

involved in technology transfer

14 SATTs

14 regional technology transfer companies, and one national company: CNRS Innovation

Accelerating groundbreaking innovation

Transfer Focus: 20 key domains

A leader in strategic scientific subjects, the CNRS focuses its national technology transfer policy on 20 key domains known as “Transfer Focus”, which are based on a number of advantages: its scientific strength, patent portfolio, privileged links with industry, expertise in technology transfer, and high innovation potential at the highest national and international levels. The organisation is accelerating groundbreaking innovation in these fields (nanomaterials, oncology, Alzheimer’s disease, service robotics, batteries, etc.), in other words the emergence of radically new concepts leading to major societal advances.

Transfer Focus List

  • Memory technology (magnetism, spintronics)
  • Optoelectronics - Light sources for health
  • Optoelectronics - LED
  • Optoelectronics - Terahertz sources
  • Oncology - Immunotherapy
  • Oncology - Biomarkers
  • Oncology - Tumoral stem cells
  • Oncology - Epigenetics
  • Alzheimer’s
  • HIV
  • Cosmetology and skin treatment
  • Molecular imaging agents
  • Batteries
  • Photovoltaic solar energy - organic
  • Photovoltaic solar energy - thin layers
  • Technology transfer of lignocellulosic biomass
  • Technology transfer of CO2
  • Service robotics
  • Big data

Accessing the market thanks to pre-maturation

In order to identify and promote innovative research projects, the CNRS has established a pre-maturation process in connection with its industrial partners. This involves the use of internal funding to support the early developmental stages of emerging technologies, in an effort to bring them to fruition and help them access the market. This commitment accelerates technology transfer in a number of ways: filing of patents, creation of start-ups, pursuit of technological maturation, and new industrial partnerships.

Supporting the development of new materials

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 © Daumet

"The new gold alloy discovered through research conducted by the physics joint unit between the CNRS and the company Thales enabled me to launch a start-up called Daumet. This novel material is of great interest to watchmaking, jewelry, and goldsmithery. Thanks to the support of the CNRS, I was able to steer the evolution of this new technology according to market needs."

Cyrile Deranlot, president of Daumet.

Daumet website

Technology transfer structures

The CNRS is strategically and operationally structured to implement its technology transfer and innovation policy, as well as to assist researchers and companies in the process.

Technology Transfer Officer (DGV)

A Chief technology transfer officer reporting directly to the president has led and coordinated the CNRS’s technology transfer activities since 2015. The creation of this position is an important signal of the organisation’s commitment to making technology transfer one of its top priorities.

Learn more about DGV

Innovation and Business Relations Department (Dire)

The DIRE implements the institution’s technology transfer strategy, working closely with its Institutes, regional offices, and CNRS Innovation. It oversees the implementation of the CNRS’s technology transfer policy with the relevant parties, and supports the creation of companies, in addition to organising partnerships with large industrial groups and SMEs. Its strategy revolves around three priorities:

  • strengthening CNRS involvement in innovation processes
  • increasing the effectiveness of the transfer of research results towards the socioeconomic world
  • developing industrial partnerships

Innovation website (in French)

 

CNRS Innovation

The mission of CNRS Innovation, a subsidiary of the CNRS and BPI France, is to transfer innovative technologies emerging from CNRS associated laboratories to industry. It evaluates technologies, establishes protection strategies, manages the portfolio of patents and their transfer to companies through negotiation and operating contracts. It also develops solid expertise in mapping innovation fields, positioning technologies, and helping entrepreneurs launch start-ups.

CNRS Innovation website

Technicien manipulant un cluster de croissance d'oxydes fonctionnels.
L’unité mixte de physique CNRS / Thales est un modèle de recherche fondamentale de haut niveau intégrant les besoins industriels. Les découvertes qui en sont issues ont notamment valu à Albert Fert le prix Nobel de physique en 2007.© Cyril Frésillon / UMR CNRS-Thales / CNRS Photothèque

A dynamic innovation environment

Many national schemes feature in the French technology transfer and innovation landscape. Numerous actors are involved in the innovation process, from the selection of a project in the laboratory to bringing technology to market. The CNRS plays a key role in this process, as it complements — and interacts with — existing structures.

Technology Transfer Companies (SATT)

Created in 2012 at the initiative of the French government in connection with the Investments for the Future Programme (PIA), the SATTs are the leading regional actors in public research maturation and technology transfer. Present across France and endowed with nearly 1 billion euros in funding, the 14 SATTs act as the interface between laboratories and the business world of technology transfer.

Technological Research Institutes (IRT)

Emerging from the Investments for the Future Programme (PIA), the IRTs promote relations between academia and companies. These private organisations, in which the CNRS is actively involved, enjoy financing to the tune of €2 billion, and are jointly set up through public-private partnerships. They focus on technology of the future, for which France is aiming to become a world leader.

Carnot network

The Carnot network (Institutes and Associated structures) are labels of excellence attributed by the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research. They recognise research from public-private partnerships, and contribute to scientific renewal by financing basic research. Through more than a hundred laboratories, the CNRS is involved in 20 of the 29 Carnot Institutes, and 7 of the 9 Associated structures.

Carnot institutes network website

A specialist in innovative materials (in French)

The MICA Carnot Institute contributes its expertise in innovative materials for the benefit of companies. From basic research to industrial applications, companies receive assistance throughout the value chain for their projects in the fields of health, transportation, and construction. The director of MICA, Cathie Vix-Guterl, received the CNRS 2016 Medal of Innovation.

Visit the MICA Carnot institute website

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Other national technology transfer and innovation mechanisms

The CNRS is involved in many of the 62 mechanisms supporting innovation in France, including France Brevets, competitiveness clusters, seed funding, Equipment of Excellence (Equipex), Laboratories of Excellence (Labex) and Excellence Initiatives (Idex), research alliances, University Hospital Institutes (IHU), and Institutes for Energy Transition (ITE).

A partnership model for technology transfer

Partnerships with industry are the foundation of the CNRS technology transfer policy. Links with industrial groups, some longstanding, are expanding rapidly in parallel with economic growth, and are facilitated by multiple forms of collaboration. This diversity has yielded an original model based on the shared construction of innovation.

Numerous research contracts with industry

Scientific collaboration between CNRS laboratories and companies is governed by contracts. Thousands of collaborative research agreements are signed each year with companies, SMEs, and multinationals. They involve the joint completion of science programmes that produce deliverables. Longstanding and close relations with large companies lead to the signing of framework agreements. 

The CNRS also finalises five-year framework agreements with multinationals to structure the overall collaboration between industry and CNRS laboratories in various fields. The 21 framework agreements currently in force with groups including Total, Safran, Solvay, EDF, Essilor, Thales, and Groupe PSA testify to this system’s value for the business world.  

Researchers innovate with industrial actors (in French)

Whether in the fields of innovative green chemistry, medicine, or mathematics, a number of CNRS Medal of Innovation laureates embody the potential of public-private research partnerships in pushing back scientific boundaries and developing innovation.

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Joint laboratories with industry

More than 130 CNRS/industry joint research structures offer a highly integrated model for research in partnership with business. The number of such structures has rocketed. They include small and medium-sized companies as well as multinationals, and are part of medium-to-long term joint governance and scientific programmes. They can take a number of forms: joint laboratories and research units, both in France and abroad, OpenLabs, and LabComs from the French National Research Agency (ANR) for SMEs. This type of collaboration is prevalent in engineering and systems sciences, and chemistry.

Testimonials

Companies

Portait de Didier Roux
Didier Roux, R&D and Innovation Director at Saint-Gobain, winner of the CNRS 2014 Medal of Innovation

" As part of the Japan-based LINK international joint unit, Saint-Gobain is exploring future avenues with the best scientists in the field, testing technologies, and developing its skills. "

Research

Portait de Jean-Michel Morel
Jean-Michel Morel, professor of mathematics - ENS Cachan, recipient of the CNRS 2015 Medal of Innovation

« The quality criteria provided by industry enables us to concentrate more quickly on the essentials. Industrial pressure actually prompts us to further our fundamental research. »

Technological platforms serving innovation 

The technological platforms provided by the CNRS and its partners give business and scientific communities access to cutting-edge infrastructures as part of research contracts, partnerships, or external services.

L’institut FEMTO-ST à Besançon est le principal laboratoire français en sciences de l'ingénieur avec plus de 700 chercheurs et doctorants. Il dispose de plusieurs plateformes technologiques dont Mimento, une centrale de micro et nanotechnologies.
The FEMTO-ST institute in Besançon (northeastern France) is the primary French laboratory for engineering sciences, with more than 700 researchers and PhD students. It boasts several technological platforms including Mimento, a micro- and nanotechnology c© Cyril Frésillon / CNRS Photo library

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A think tank with industry

The CNRS’s partner company network promotes exchanges and reinforces high-level dialogue with socioeconomic actors. It meets to discuss issues such as start-ups, the role of industry in France, and international development. Partners contribute to innovation support programmes, serve on the Medal of Innovation jury, and are associated with important scientific cultural events such as the CNRS Forums “What Remains to be Discovered?” and “HSS Innovatives”, as well as the  “NanoCar Race” and “My thesis in 180 seconds” contest.

Start-ups originating from the CNRS, a punt on the future

The more than 1,400 start-ups that originate from CNRS laboratories point to the economic potential of research, as well as the entrepreneurial spirit of researchers. Flexible and creative, they are essential drivers in promoting innovation, thereby contributing to economic growth. 

Researcher entrepreneurs

Since the 1999 law known as the “Allègre law,” which allowed the implementation of technology transfer measures and helped change ways of thinking, CNRS researchers have been able to set up companies. Based on highly qualitative transferable research results, 80% of the start-ups that have emerged from laboratories are still in operation today. As evidence of their success, some are listed, while others have been purchased by multinationals. More than a third (38%) are in the information technology and communication sectors, followed by biology and health (24%), with chemistry and materials (19%) coming a close third.

The approximately 1,400 start-ups that have originated from the CNRS since 1999 have helped create nearly 8,000 jobs.
Marie-Pierre Comets, Director of the Innovation and Business Relations Department

Support mechanisms

Supporting pre-maturation

The CNRS has implemented a policy aimed at assisting and encouraging the creation of companies in laboratories, in an effort to ensure effective technology transfer. A series of mechanisms and resources supports technological pre-maturation and assists researchers-entrepreneurs in evaluating the possibility of bringing an innovation to market, investing in the company’s capital, and promoting future partnerships.

Investing in start-ups

Through CNRS innovation (formerly Fist SA), its national technology transfer subsidiary, the CNRS has already taken a stake in 26 start-ups with high innovation potential. These companies operate in major research fields such as information technology and communication, biology, physics, and chemistry. These investments reflect the CNRS’s long-term commitment to promising companies.

CNRS Innovation website

Flagship events around innovation

The CNRS organises high-visibility events around innovation, intended both for its partners and the general public. In its knowledge dissemination capacity, it also strengthens its position as a hub for and driver of technology transfer.

The Medal of Innovation 

With the Medal of Innovation, which was created in 2011, the CNRS rewards outstanding scientific research that has led to breakthrough technological, therapeutic, or social innovation. Each year, a jury hands out between one and five medals to CNRS researchers and engineers, other research organisations, universities and prestigious higher-education institutions, or industrial players closely involved in research. 

Discover the Medal of Innovation laureates

Jean-Pierre Nozières, Spintronics maestro (in French)

Jean-Pierre Nozières is one of the four 2017 Medal of Innovation winners, along with Raphaèle Herbin, Jean-Marie Tarascon, and Jamal Tazi. Embodying the synthesis between basic research and immediate application, he has become an accomplished entrepreneur. This physicist by training is the founder of the Spintec3 laboratory as well as four start-ups, the most recent of which are less than a year old.

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The HSS Innovatives

A series of events organised by the CNRS around themes with strong innovation potential for 2025, the HSS Innovatives forum is a key occasion for strengthening partnerships with socioeconomic actors. It allows laboratories and companies to communicate about their needs and advances in view of future applications and also encourages researcher initiatives in technology transfer activities. The Innovatives touch on various subjects, including the humanities and social sciences, the vehicles of the future, big data, etc.

Innovatives website (in French)

The HSS Innovatives trade fair

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During the 2017 HSS Innovatives: presentation of a novel virtual reality system that does not require glasses. © Clément Mahoudeau / CNRS Photo library

The HSS Innovatives trade fair, organised by the CNRS’s Institute for Humanities and Social Sciences, is devoted to technology transfer in the humanities and social sciences. From public decision-making support to serious games and collaborative platforms, researchers propose attractive achievements that are often developed through successful collaboration with businesses, local authorities, and associations.

National Days for Innovation in Health

The National Days for Innovation in Health bring together all members of the health community at the initiative of the French Ministry of Health and Social Affairs as well as Universcience. They encourage the general public to discover the latest scientific advances and technologies in this field, offering demonstrations, workshops, round tables, professional speed dating, conferences, and exhibitions.

Learn more (in French)

 

Start-up Connexion

These meetings between investors and researcher-entrepreneurs, which were launched by the Groupe AEF and the CNRS, target start-ups originating from the world of academic research. They identify innovative projects with high economic value, give visibility to budding companies, and facilitate financing.

Start-up Connexion website (in French)

BIOPIC, winner of the 2017 Start-up Connexion award

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© Thierry  Ryo / Fotolia

The start-up BIOPIC, created by the doctor in physics and farmer Frédéric Roullier, offers a series of intelligent and connected systems and resources to help livestock farmers better manage their activity and improve profitability. It stems from research conducted at the Laboratoire de microélectronique et physique des semi-conducteurs, a joint public-private laboratory. 

Biopic website

Innovation Tuesdays

Innovation Tuesdays, organised by the CNRS and the Club de Paris des Directeurs de l’Innovation, are free inter-institutional conferences. They are open to students from all universities, prestigious higher-education institutions and professional schools who have just completed their training, as well as innovation professionals including directors of innovation, R&D, marketing, and brands along with project directors and managers, researchers, designers, creators, producers, and entrepreneurs. By bringing together such a diversity of actors, these conferences facilitate networking for the many talents needed for innovation. 

Innovation Tuesdays website (in French)