Brussels, 10 July 2002
While the relationship between science and industry is undergoing change, many countries still need to modernise it to adapt to changed circumstances. This is one of the conclusions of a new report entitled 'Benchmarking industry-science relationships' published by the OECD (Organisation for economic cooperation and development).
The report summarises the findings of a two year project carried out by the OECD and gives indications of areas where best practice could be introduced.
It emphasises that industry-science relationships (ISRs) 'play an increasing role in determining returns on investment in research in terms of competitiveness, growth, job creation and quality of life.'
While ISRs have changed, an example being the emergence of broad alliances between universities and the private sector, often in relation to a spin off activity, this has not happened to the same degree in all areas or countries. The USA, for example, has shown far more development of its ISRs than many other countries. In terms of government policies to ensure that countries do not fall behind, one of the main areas where governments need help concerns the tools to monitor the efficiency of ISRs and the ability to accurately compare.
The best way this can be done, according to the report, is to analyse ISRs in three areas: nature and relative importance of the channels of interaction; their incentive structures; and their institutional arrangements.
In the first area, a lack of mobility of researchers, particularly between the public and the private sector, was identified as one of the main problems. Spin offs from publicly funded research made an important contribution to innovation, but the creation of spin offs was about four times higher in the USA than in other countries.
Incentives were more uniform, with a widespread trend of transferring ownership of the results of publicly funded research from the state to those performing the research. There are still differences in whether the ownership is transferred to the institution or the individual carrying out the research.
Finally, the report highlights that university-based ISRs have benefited from a trend to redirect public research and development towards them. This is mainly due to the multidisciplinarity needed in some R&D (research and development), but it has not helped the research institutes and has not always helped ISRs either. Updating the role of research institutes and improving their links with universities is necessary if they are to play a full role in contributing to innovation, the report suggests.
Monitoring the progress of ISRs is difficult, as some countries may show a low score overall but have some elements of good practice. Continuous learning from individual examples should be undertaken, rather than a pointless 'beauty contest' type of benchmarking, the reports says. Defining the different types of ISRs is also important. The report lists three - those involving multinational enterprises and world class universities; relations between universities and high-tech small firms; and relations developing in a regional context between firms and the local university.
Drawing on these conclusions, the report highlights some policy implications, which have also been discussed at international events since publication. Firstly, giving greater priority to basic research in government science and technology programmes. Secondly, ensuring appropriate frameworks for intellectual property rights. 'Currently far too much time is wasted in attempting to work out the details and differences in patenting and licensing policies of different countries,' it says.
Thirdly, matching supply and demand of scientific knowledge, providing a bridge between what the research community can offer and what the private sector needs. Fourthly, improving the governance of universities and public laboratories, where funding could be linked to performance and clearer priority setting could take place. Fifthly, safeguarding public knowledge, where governments need to ensure that results of publicly funded research are available. Finally, promotion of participation of smaller firms, where 'there is also a case for public support and incentives to existing SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) and especially those in mature industries in order to help them link up with the science and enhance innovation capacity.'
Other points the report raises include the need to attract, retain and mobilise human resources, the need to improve the evaluation of research and to respond to globalisation and finally to build on existing innovative networks and clusters.
To access the report, please consult the following web address: http://www.sourceoecd.org