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
    Lonnie E. Holder, 4 Dec 2008 @ 10:43am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Anonymous:

    Your comments seem a bit imprecise. If a patent is about exploiting a "known idea," then it is not statutorily patentable.

    Patents have to be on devices or features that are non-obvious and new. For example, the first radar was non-obvious and new. The first diesel engine was quite non-obvious and new. The list of examples is extensive (if you believe that the tens of millions of patents issued by the nations of the world are for non-obvious and new inventions0.

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