Needless to say that the IST program of the European Commission is enormously stimulating the R&D activities in European universities and companies. But what about real innovation based on this research?
As mentioned previously, and as I will explain in later writings, the commercial exploitation of R&D results is not easy. It starts with designing good and realistic exploitation plans. A fully fledged exploitation plan is something like a business plan that you can present to top management or VCs with the objective to raise money for starting a new business.
Even though the European Commission (EC) is keen on commercialising technology and tools originated in European IST research projects, their main objective is to investigate and develop new technology, not to innovate in businesses and society. EU research projects thus focus on exploitation plans, while other programs such as eTen or eContent Plus focus more on respectively commercialisation and applications. However, the largest share of public funding goes to IST research projects.
This creates a situation where
- The EC is very keen on commercial exploitation plans of consortia
- The research projects are not the optimal instrument to generate realistic, well founded exploitation plans (for several reasons, as I will explain in later writings).
Below you can see an illustrative table with some of the projects I have participated (participate) in along with the relation between effort dedicated to R&D, and effort reserved for dissemination and exploitation plans. Notice that most of the projects are in the Semantic Web area.
On average, only 8 percent of the effort is devoted to dissemination exploitation, so even less is dedicated to writing exploitation plans. We have to take into account that those efforts are assigned by the consortia themselves, not by the EC. Although the percentage is low (with the exception of the last two projects, Super and Neon), the actual efforts in person months are not so low. E.g. 36 person months is equivalent to three persons working full time during one year on a particular topic. Yet, it seems very hard for consortia to come up with realistic exploitation plans that –after project termination- give rise to commercial exploitation. Several reasons come to my mind.
- The interest of people participating in research projects is research, not marketing.
- Exploitation is considered as a requirement imposed by the EC at the time of proposal submission and contract negotiation, and therefore is added artificially.
- Researchers are good at research, not necessarily at writing business plans.
- Research projects are long term (3-4 years), whereas commercial opportunities are planned on a shorter time scale.
I can continue enumerating many more reasons. I will elaborate on some of them later on, and also provide some ideas on how to improve the commercial exploitation of research results. However, this is mainly a high-level political issue to “make the EU the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.”