The EU wants to foster academic ties with industry
The governing board of a new European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) has held its inaugural meeting in the Hungarian capital Budapest.
The European Union is providing initial funding of more than 300m euros (£238m) for the institute, aimed at generating more European technological advances.
The EIT hopes to pool the expertise of universities, research bodies and businesses in new partnerships.
Renewable energy and new-generation IT projects are among the priority areas.
The EIT is part of an overall EU strategy to promote jobs, growth and competitiveness in the EU.
"Until now, higher education has notoriously been the absent member of innovation partnerships," the European Commission says.
The EIT is to involve universities in new public-private partnerships called "Knowledge and Innovation Communities" (KICs), to create new commercial opportunities by bringing researchers and business entrepreneurs together.
European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso described business involvement in the EIT as "crucial, because the lack of business-funded R&D [research and development] explains almost 85% of the gap between the EU and the USA, for example".
The EU is putting Hungary at the heart of hi-tech innovation
Speaking at the EIT's opening ceremony in Budapest, he said the institute would "focus on its mission without any political or bureaucratic interference" and "to do this, we have handed it an unprecedented level of autonomy".
He said the governing board must now work to get funding from the private sector and attract "the most innovative businesses and the best research organisations".
The EIT should respond to the EU's energy priorities, he said, pointing to the need for "a fresh approach to take us into a truly low-carbon Europe".
The EIT is not modelled on the successful Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, a senior European Commission official told the BBC News website on Monday.
"It is a very European answer to the challenges Europe faces, with a unique structure," said John MacDonald, spokesman for education and training commissioner Jan Figel.
The EIT will combine "the three parts of the knowledge triangle - education, research and business innovation", in a venture not tried in Europe before, Mr MacDonald said. Such networks had been "lamentably unexplored" in the EU previously, he added.
The governing board will decide the priority areas, select two or three KICs in the next 18 months and come up with a strategic innovation agenda by 2011.
There are 18 board members and another four will join at a later date. They will have a support staff of up to 60.
KICs will be set up through open competition, in a series of public tenders, Mr MacDonald said. The partnership networks will also be open to non-EU participants.