Taylor misses innovation trick

May 17, 1996

Ian Taylor's article (THES, May 10) misses some very critical points. He rightly draws on the work of the Department for Trade and Industry's Innovation Unit. Indeed, if there are to be substantial benefits from locating the Office for Science and Technology within the DTI, they will come from deeper understandings of innovation.

Innovation is the way that research knowledge is turned to practical use. Understanding innovation is a significant key to understanding how scientific research contributes to our economy and quality of life.

But innovation is not just invention and the indicator of innovation is not just patents. Scientific research certainly helps drive the innovation process but its outcomes do not often lead to patents. Good business opportunities, better ways of working, new services, improved processes and small-scale technological improvements are all supported by research. Most will never lead to patents. And while innovations may sometimes be groundbreaking and radical, they are much more likely to be modest and incremental.

Ian Taylor's office is right to pursue the innovation agenda. But if he is to champion effective ways of managing and improving the impact of research, he must identify and measure the full range of technology transfer and innovation. Patents are interesting but research contributes so much more than can be measured by this one indicator.

ANDY BODDINGTON, TRUDY COE Evaluation Associates Ltd Wolverton Mill, Milton Keynes

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