Industrial partnerships

Inria’s commitment to the Carnot network: for excellence in partnership-based research

Changed on 19/10/2022
Having been awarded the Carnot label in 2011, Inria is committed to excellence in its partnership policy. The institute has made voluntary changes to its programmes (including project teams and joint challenges), tailoring them to meet the needs of companies, the overarching objective being to work in close cooperation with French industrial partners. We caught up with François Cuny, Inria’s deputy CEO for innovation.
François Cuny parle au micro
© Inria / Photo B. Fourrier

What does the Carnot label mean for Inria?

Overseen by the French Ministry of Higher Education and Research, the Carnot label recognises excellence in technology transfer among public research bodies in France, in partnership with industry, promoting high levels of quality.
This label was awarded primarily in recognition of the excellence of Inria's work at the interface between research and the world of industry: partnership-based research.

It also saw us join a network of 39 institutes all bearing the Carnot label, a collective dynamic for dialogue and best practice.

Finally, funding is also matched through the Carnot label, which has been useful to us in further strengthening Inria’s commitment to excellence. At a tangible level this has enabled us to improve our quality process and our dynamic in relation to companies.

What are Inria’s commitments as a Carnot Institute?

The Carnot label recognises schemes linked to excellence, with a particular emphasis on quality initiatives in relation to the world of industry. Through this label, Inria is committed to maintaining a process of continuous improvement with regard to its quality initiatives.

As a Carnot Institute we are committed to answering all of the requests we receive from the world of industry. In the first place, this involves having the capacity to process these requests, analysing them to determine whether or not they fall within the institute’s field of expertise, before drafting a tailored response. This can range from pointing them in an alternative direction to implementing measures in response to the request, which will often then result in a contract being entered into.

Carnot Institutes have a “Charter for Best Practice for Intellectual Property and Knowledge and Technology Transfer”, which we adhere to in the context of our relationships with industrial partners.

We are also committed to participating in the life of the network, working alongside other Carnot Institutes to develop a structured offer aimed at companies. This involves dialogue, best practice, partnerships, and so on.

What are some of the tangible results of the Carnot network?

The primary objective of the Carnot network is to develop and boost the quality of industrial relationships.
This objective has been a central part of Inria's strategy and its Objectives and Performance Contract since 2019, and we are naturally committed to it through this label. The financial contribution from Carnot has enabled us to step up our efforts, chiefly through our quality dynamic. We have done a lot of work in recent years on our contract process for industrial partners, encompassing everything from the first contract to the signing of a framework agreement. This involves strategic partnerships, which take the form of individual initiatives such as joint project teams and joint challenges.

In practical terms, we have been able to employ more staff to interact with the world of industry. This includes strategic innovation managers, working on new themes such as agriculture or energy and the environment, which has enabled us to expand our partnership-based dynamic.

We have also overseen projects more specifically linked to Carnot, known as interCarnot projects, which bring multiple Carnot institutes together to devise initiatives aimed at the world of industry. Examples include our partnerships with ISIFoR (a group of 11 public research laboratories set up to deal with energy and environmental challenges relating to underground environments in the Grand Sud-Ouest region), Star (a consortium of 9 research units, operating at the interface between sport, health and well-being), and the BRGM (the French geological survey).

What are Inria’s ambitions as part of its policy for strategic partnerships in an industrial context?

Purely and simply, this involves implementing what is outlined in Inria’s Objectives and Performance Contract from 2019. We want to strengthen ties with the wider economy in France, employing a very clear strategy which promotes greater interaction, and deeper interactions.

This marks a significant change from the past: we don’t place any emphasis on industrial partnerships with tech giants as this wouldn't have any economic impact in France or in Europe. They also don’t need us. However, these are the easiest, the most attractive and the most profitable partnerships.
Although we obviously don’t prohibit such partnerships, we prefer to focus our efforts on the industrial landscape in France.

Each time Inria enters into dialogue with a promising industrial partner, we try to build a strategic partnership. Previously, the bulk of our partnerships were one-off, and were often based around local interaction. Discussions now take place at the highest level possible, the aim being to see if there is strategic alignment medium to long-term. There are a range of programmes for this, including the institute’s own initiatives, such as joint project teams and joint challenges.

But there are other means of interacting with the world of industry, particularly when it comes to knowledge transfer:

  • one of these involves assisting companies in the process of skilling-up on our subjects, for which we offer training courses for their employees. Inria Academy was set up to provide continuing education on the subject of digital technology, with a focus on technology developed in the public sphere. The thrust of this is that this sort of training benefits the wider French economy while contributing towards the spread of this technology and related skills.
  • another is in the process of being finalised through an HR platform we are setting up, which aims to raise awareness of employment opportunities in French industry among the more than 800 scientists leaving Inria each year, after several years spent working on PhDs, postdocs or engineering contracts. 

Our partnership dynamic also has both a European and an international dimension. We have, for instance, our International Labs across the world, in Europe, India, Chile and Africa. If our industrial partners believe there are benefits to operating in these regions, then we have the capacity to make it happen.

In conclusion, our strategy when it comes to industrial partnerships is geared towards targeted partners, the bulk of whom will be French (covering the full range of our expertise as a research institute), and open to other programmes with the potential to enhance the economic impact of our actions.

Looking to the future, we would like to extend our partnerships to cover small and medium-sized companies, as well as intermediate-sized companies. For smaller companies, projecting four or five years into the future, freeing up resources equivalent to multiple full-time employees, or spending hundreds and even sometimes millions of euros on partnerships might not always be realistic. When it comes to our strategic partnerships with SMEs, we want to devise a tailored approach, something a bit different.
I’m particularly proud of this, because we’ve already signed strategic partnerships with intermediate-sized companies such as OVH and Berger-Levrault, and even with the startup Hive. We have other programmes we will be employing with SMEs and intermediate-sized companies, drawing on the Inria Innovation Labs dynamic.

What are the benefits of developing a partnership with Inria?

In 2011 Marc Andreessen said that “software is eating the world”. Software is transforming and shaking up every aspect of society, including from an economic perspective. This has resulted in structural changes to how things operate, as we have seen with Airbnb for hotels and Uber for transport. And the list is getting longer every day.

From the most traditional industries to the most cutting-edge, change is happening and it’s not going to stop. We firmly believe that failing to stop to consider this transformation within industry will put you at a major disadvantage. That’s because the rest of the world is going to adapt. At Inria we have world-renowned experts in their fields with the capacity to provide support with this. Industrial partners that anticipate how they are going to transform and which factor in digital’s impact on their development will be able to foresee scientific obstacles, which Inria can then help them with.

As a national digital body, we can also act as an interface with civil society and public authorities. This can be useful in an industrial context for linking up available offers, projections for the future and needs as expressed at a societal level or by public authorities.

As far as the world of industry is concerned, Inria is a potential mine of knowledge and skills, and a gateway to scientists from across the world who Inria's researchers naturally work with.

What are Inria’s key partnerships?

Since 2019 Inria has signed 14 strategic partnerships with industrial partners (Naval Group, Interdigital, ATOS, Ariane Group, Berger-Levrault, OVH, La Poste, Orange, Criteo, Valeo, 3DS, EDF, Framatome and Hive). These partnerships have already led to 7 joint project teams and 1 joint challenge being created, despite there having been no joint structure of this type with the world of industry prior to 2019.

What our Carnot partners say

We are pleased to be working with Inria as we seek to continue our investment in research into new ways of producing reliable, low-carbon energy. Inria’s diversity of innovation initiatives promote scientific, digital and technological excellence, making them an important partner at a time where we are looking to develop digital solutions for the future.

Alexis Marincic, Executive vice-president Engineering & Design Authority, Framatome | On 16th June 2022 following the signing of their partnership with Inria

By renewing our partnership with this leading national research institute, we are continuing a well-established, trust-based, long-term collaboration.

Bernard Salha, Head of R&D at EDF | On 16th June 2022 following the renewal of their partnership with Inria

As society becomes increasingly virtual, new scientific and technological fundamentals are required in order for individuals to have the best experience and the highest levels of trust. In this context, Europe and France boast unrivalled research and technology capacities: you can see this in the leadership of Inria and Dassault Systèmes, as well as in the leadership of start-ups innovating in their fields. New ecosystems are emerging in response to these challenges, bringing public and private stakeholders together in a way that benefits everyone.

Bernard Charlès, Chief executive officer and vice-chairman of the board of directors of Dassault Systèmes | On 3rd February 2022 following the signing of their partnership with Inria