Stop Worrying About Basic Research: Focus On Practical Innovation

from the about-time dept

For years, we've been among those pointing out that the really important thing in economic growth isn't invention, but innovation. It's the process of actually taking an idea and successfully bringing it to market in a way that people want that matters in the long run. Coming up with new ideas is only a small part of the process. That's why we often have so much trouble with the way the patent system works. It greatly enhances the role of simply coming up with the new idea, and then makes the important part -- the innovation -- a lot more expensive. However, when we discuss this, we often get angry comments from people noting that "basic research" would disappear without patents. Of course, that's unlikely for a variety of reasons, including the fact that a great deal of basic research has little or nothing to do with patents.

However, a recent deeply researched book by Columbia professor Amar Bhide called The Venturesome Economy goes even further in noting that all of this talk about basic research misses the point: basic research has little impact on actual innovation. If we want to focus on actually helping the economy, investing in basic research will do very little. The real trick is in encouraging that ongoing innovation -- those "mid-level" improvements that make products more acceptable in the market. Even if basic research occurs outside of the US, our ability to take ideas and shape them into successful businesses by engaging in that process of refining and improving are what will allow the economy to continue growing. It's great to see more academic support for these concepts.

Filed Under: amar bhide, basic research, innovation, veturesome economy


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 Dec 2008 @ 8:56am

    Re:

    I think you miss the point, removing the impediments that patents place on the mid-level improvements does not toss away basic research but equalizes the importance that it plays. Basic research is nothing in the market place without the mid-level improvements. Learning how to genetically modify crops does not automatically lead to super-nutrient laden crops without somebody making the mid-level enhancements to make it cost effective to do so.

    Focusing on only one piece of the entire innovation process is the problem. You're focusing only on the smallest tip of everything. It's still important, but it's nothing by itself. Which is the problem here. By making it more important than the rest of the process you actually hurt the basic research.

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