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 @ 7:01pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:


    I think I agree with you, with one teeny little adjustment. Patents do not pay for basic research. Patents can and do pay for some applied research (as we have called level 2 research). After applied research, terminology gets a little fuzzy. Advanced development comes after applied research, and onward. Basic research often gets left out in the cold.

    Unfortunately, basic research is the engine that drives the machine, it just does so far removed from the time the actual development happens. The laser (bar code scanners, surgery, ranger finders, CD and DVD players, ad infinitum), television, and dozens (hundreds, thousands, millions?) of devices owe their existence to basic research conducted decades and perhaps even more than a century ago.

    The question that some people have asked is where will the developments of the next 50 and 100 years come from? The support for basic research is probably the least it has been in a century. We may continue to innovate the heck out of the stuff we know, but that will only take us so far.

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