Friday, August 21, 2009

Creating an Environment for Commercialisation

Ferdindand von Prondzynksi makes a strong case on his blog that the focus on direct immediate commercialisation of research findings is misplaced. The article is linked below.

This is a very timely contribution that helps to move the debate on. As evidenced by the quotes below, the focus of the argument is that research funding for universities creates an environment where research innovation can flourish if not by direct commercialisation itself but through outside actors drawing from the knowledge created. An example given in the article is the research triangle in North Carolina.

"What annoys me is that this debate is often being conducted around the idea that research should create jobs, meaning that there should be immediate spin-offs that generate large-scale employment."

"For example, the IDA (Ireland’s inward investment agency) has stated several times that its recent successes in generating foreign direct investment have overwhelmingly dependent on and been based on our research investment and the existence of a serious research community in Ireland, as this was a vital factor for the companies contemplating Ireland. Similarly, indigenous start-ups increasingly tap into our research capacity. In that sense, the complaint noted by Michael Hennigan that post-doctoral researchers don’t go into business but move on to other research projects is of no significance, in that researchers are rarely the right people to go into business – but they need to go on to help create further discovery that can then be used by those who have the business skills."

It is difficult to agree with the final conclusion below however. This is for a number of reasons. Firstly, it is not at all clear that the various SSTI and Smart Economy initiatives have the same vision as outlined above, and it is certainly worth continuing to debate what is being achieved in these initiatives and what is trying to be achieved. The professor is right to point out that this should not be done from the default position of assuming that research is a worthless activity but I think the amount of economists who hold that view is a lot smaller than he gives credit for. If we can agree that creating an environment where linkages both direct and indirect to universities lead to widespread societal and economic innovation driven in both directions (we learn in universities also by looking outwards), then it still is vital to ask what form these linkages are now taking and what role funding mechanisms play in this. What mechanisms best promote these linkages? Are the ones that we have in place optimal? What direct and indirect costs and benefits accrue when government agencies fund research? In general, it would be good to bring some of this debate to specifics and I am going to begin to start focusing some posts on specific questions related to this debate.

"The evidence is clear and is well known. It is time to stop pretending that we don’t have the facts. It’s time to be focused and determined, and to show consistency of purpose. Unless we like the idea of going back to the 1980s"


Kevin Denny said...

Actually I think its a pretty weak case

Liam Delaney said...

elaborate kevin