Following the growing interest towards the role of the knowledge in the modern economies the economic literature has focused many studies on the role of the sources of new knowledge, e.g. universities and public research institutions. The relations between these bodies and the firms, the contributions of the technological spillovers at the local level, the creation of new technology based firms, the challenge between fundamental research and applied research are some of the arguments of the present debate. This paper represents a short survey of the international literature with a focus on the studies concerning Italy, and an analysis of the relations of some Italian research institutes with users of knowledge and technology (such as firms, etc.). The results show a common evidence even if in some areas the Italian situation is quite underdeveloped with large areas for future research policy implications.