The EIT said development of new partnerships between the higher education, research and business sectors will bring new technologies to market, and the successful candidates will benefit from a range of EU funding programmes and loans from the European Investment Bank. KICs will also be expected to attract funding from the private sector.
European Commission President José Manuel Barroso first floated the idea of the EIT in February 2005 as part of a revamped Lisbon Agenda, but his initial vision has since been watered down amid wrangling over how to structure the institute.
The first KICs will be selected by January 2010 and are expected to bring together researchers in the fields of climate change, energy efficiency and information society.
Successful proposals must demonstrate innovation, a high degree of integrated partnership and drive new interactions in the fields of technology, culture, business and design.
These priorities were identified two years ago, but it is not yet clear whether they will be dealt with in a particular order. The EIT has said it will select "two or three" KICs, depending on the quality and nature of the proposals, so it is conceivable that all three of the institute's focus areas could be covered.
The chairman of the EIT's governing board, Dr Martin Schuurmans, described the call for proposals as "a major step towards a fully operational EIT" and said the KICs would provide an opportunity for innovation in Europe.
"This is why we are looking forward to really novel and attractive proposals that convincingly strike new paths in collaboration between academic and business partners," he said.
Jan Figel', EU commissioner for education, training, culture and youth, said Europe needs new ways of linking the worlds of academia, research and business innovation. "The EIT is a key mover and shaker in this regard," he said.