Marquette, Kohler sign formal research partnership agreement

Kohler Center for Entrepreneurship on Marquette's campus.

Marquette University has signed a new partnership agreement with Kohler Co. that leaders say will pave the way for more collaborative research between the two institutions.

Marquette and Kohler said the contract establishes mutual agreement around intellectual property, licensing and other partnership terms, which will addresses one of the main hindrances to collaborating on research.

“This is a unique opportunity that not many universities have with companies, especially those with Kohler’s size and reputation,” said Dr. Carmel Ruffolo, associate vice president for corporate engagement at Marquette. “With a lot of the legal and business interests squared away, this allows our faculty who want to work with Kohler to agree on scope of work and their budget, and away they go.”

The two institutions have partnered for over 100 years, including through sponsorships, scholarships, internships, co-ops, the Kohler Center for Entrepreneurship and faculty research. As an example, in 2019, the two institutions hosted a design competition that challenged teams of students to redesign a bathroom at the 707 Hub in the Kohler Center for Entrepreneurship. The teams selected for the competition worked with professional mentors from Kohler, toured its facilities and used Kohler products in their design entries.

“For Marquette, (the university’s Kohler partnership) is the most comprehensive engagement we have with a company across the board,” Ruffolo said, noting that most recently the two have worked together on sustainability research.

The new, first-of-its-kind agreement allows them to expedite the research process, Ruffolo said.

“Kohler can come to Marquette and say, ‘we need this project,’” she said. “We don’t have to worry about IP, that’s already been worked out. So it allows their folks to just really get to the heart of creating. … It’s a win-win.”

For Kohler, the bolstered partnership means better access to talent and problem-solving ability coming out of the university; and for students, it provides research opportunities and access to potential jobs after graduation, Ruffolo said.

“This agreement is significant for both Marquette and Kohler, and removes a hurdle for our business teams with the amount of negotiating that goes into each and every project,” said Tanya Lulloff, director of human resources – power systems at Kohler Co. “This opens the door for our teams to identify partners at Marquette and for the engagement to be streamlined and mutually beneficial.”

Ruffolo said she expects the Kohler agreement to be a model for the university to build similar partnerships with other companies.

“Kohler is a natural fit with the history we have,” she said. “… But, yes, absolutely, we’re talking to other companies now that they know we can do it. We’ve demonstrated we can do it and we’re very serious when it comes to engaging our corporate partners.”

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Lauren Anderson is an associate editor and covers health care, nonprofits and education for BizTimes. Lauren previously reported on education for the Waukesha Freeman. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied journalism.

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