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, 4 Dec 2008 @ 11:41am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    I agree, my comment was a bit imprecise. I'll try to clarify.

    In order to obtain a patent you must have an idea and place it on paper. This implies that research supporting this idea has already taken place to ensure it is exercisable. Since the research has likely taken place before the patent is applied for much less granted. Any revenue collected by the patent cannot retroactively fund the research that went into creating it.

    The point being that patents do not fund research. Patents provide a possible way to recoup costs of research by providing an exclusive right to exercise the patent for a limited period of time. The idea being that the entity who invented the cool idea in the patent will be able to recoup their costs by bringing it to market before any competition and as an incentive to bring it into the market.

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