As a member of the Innovation Taskforce, I had an unusual sense of achievement when the report was launched last Thursday. The very many hours, of occasionally rambling, and of occasionally incredibly, intense discussion that took place in the working group that I participated in and in the plenary sessions finally got distilled into a coherent document. Its coherence is as much in the consistency of tone and approach is in its alignment to the viewpoints which were expressed by the very active of members of the Taskforce.
It says in the introduction that not all of the recommendations are accepted by all of the members of the Taskforce and a variation on that is that not all of the recommendations are seen as very important to all members of the Taskforce. I’ll, therefore, be selective in pointing out three components that are in the report: the first is key recommendation one (that is in paragraph 5 so it is referred to as 5.1) which states that it is recommended to “deliver on the investment framework set out in the Strategy for Science Technology and Innovation (SSTI) 2006 to 2013 and achieve the goals in the renewed programme for the Government of investing 3% of GDP in R&D by committing to investment in an updated SSTI for the 2014 to 2020 period.”
Three different aspects of this are important: first, the SSTI is reinstated as the investment framework for the Government with a consequent projected spend for period 2007-2013 of €8.2billion or, as is often stated the related target (in the context of the Lisbon Strategy) to commit to spending 2.5% of GNP by 2013. I’ll come back to this point later. The second is that the overall goal of 3% of GDP is reiterated having first appeared in the renewed programme for Government. The third is that the SSTI time period has been extended from 2013 to 2020 at which point 3% of GDP should be achieved. These are important commitments that are recommended to the Government.
The second point is the overall focus in the document on the entrepreneur. Reflecting on the way the current system works pointed to a number of occasions where investments by the Government were viewed as being important to the recipient of the investment and not necessarily to the overall economy that the Government wishes to support. By focusing on the outcomes from the investments that will affect the economy and society i.e. enterprises and entrepreneurs, the document makes a timely corrective tug in the direction of viewing support from the State as having an endpoint of supporting the State. The emphasis on the entrepreneur (and enterprises generally) is a reiteration of a common belief in Ireland that this is an economic system that depends on individuals making a difference and puts a responsibility on all of those who have that spark of genius, courage and insight to work in this environment to ensure that they and, through them, the country prospers.
The third point that I became particularly interested in was the recommendation to establish an International Innovation Service Centre. This is found as key recommendation No. 12.1. The start point for this was the understanding that currently, intellectual property that arises from investments in higher education and elsewhere through SFI and others, is dispersed throughout the system, thereby making it difficult for the entrepreneur to identify opportunities. The dispersion also means that the difficulty of combining of ideas (such as would happen when two different patents would be of greater value than an individual one), gives rise to weaker start-up companies. By having a single location where all of this information was available engendered the concept of a support system for the entrepreneur who wished to mine the data available for exploitation. This soon grew into a realisation that the entrepreneur or early-stage company would also need to have tax, legal and financial support in order to have a good start to their business. Once the idea of having these services in the same location as the intellectual property was advanced, it became an easy leap to think that the intellectual property that would be required would not only be that of Ireland but would come from all over the world. And then the companies that might be interested in this also could come from all over the world and would be faced with uncertainties about how to manoeuvre through the different rules and laws within Europe and different Member States of the commission of the EU. And eventually from all of this reflection and discussion, the concept of an International Innovation Science Service Centre came into being. Using the initials that they reflect the International Financial Services Centre points to a possible easy mechanism of moving from the concept to the delivery and already some new ideas have been added such as trading of intellectual property, development of advanced software to mine data in patents etc.
By focusing on this one specific proposal, I am pointing also to the multiple other specific actions which might be required. Moving from document to deeds is always a delicate and difficult matter. I am sure all the Taskforce will follow with interest to see if the activities follow on the analysis. A specific indication of that will be available very soon. Here I go back to the commitment to adhere to the financial plans in SSTI. The economic difficulties of the last years have thrown these investment plans of that into disarray. The correction of this and an increase in funding into the enterprise section generally in the next budget will send a very telling message to the business community, to worldwide observers, to be the scientific and engineering community and indeed to the Taskforce to say that the work has indeed been noted and its importance is such that it will be acted upon.
Copies of the Innovation Taskforce report are available to download from – http://www.taoiseach.ie/eng/Innovation_Taskforce/