Learning to reward entrepreneurship: The value of investing in our own innovation

Successfully leveraging our national research bank holds the key to sustainable economic prosperity.

By Alison Campbell Knowledge Transfer Ireland

In 1980, the Bayh-Dole Act mandated that ownership of inventions would be retained by the respective university rather than by the US federal government, transforming the commercialisation of public research and the way it is transferred to companies for development and commercialisation into products or services.

This paved the way for the development of what is now the technology transfer profession – not just in the USA, but worldwide. Ireland now has a vibrant research commercialisation system and a network of technology transfer offices at third level.

This system reflects the importance of research and innovation in the State’s economic development policy, with significant investment being made over the past two decades and a sharp focus on maximising the return on this investment in the form of greater innovation, competitiveness and economic growth.

Looking back to the 1980s in Ireland, on foot of the external Telesis Report, there was a reorganisation of State Agencies which saw Enterprise Ireland take its place alongside the IDA to boost support and development of indigenous industry to provide a balance in the enterprise base in Ireland.

This means that today we have a healthy mix of R&D active companies, from SMEs through to multinationals, and the majority of these understand the importance of innovating in today’s increasingly competitive international landscape.

Wealth of opportunity

That’s where Ireland’s infrastructure for commercialising research becomes so important. With a cohesive range of State supports and experienced people on the ground, in our colleges and other research organisations, there is a wealth of opportunity and ease of access for companies wanting to innovate through engaging with publicly funded research.

Enterprise now has a route into new technology, intellectual property and expertise that can help accelerate its R&D, without having to invest in all the resources in-house. Ireland is seen in Europe as highly successful in the maturity of its innovation landscape, and this is something of which we should be proud.

Ireland has the highest number of RTTPs per capita in the world – RTTP being  a global professional credential for Technology Transfer or Knowledge Transfer professionals with advanced knowledge and experience. 

Understanding the needs of business

The majority of people working in technology transfer in Ireland have a background in R&D and the commercial world. They understand the issues that businesses face when seeking to innovate so they can and do act as sector experts, translating the needs of business and identifying new commercial propositions.

Building and sustaining Ireland’s tech transfers capacity at third level has delivered results. The latest figures show that 1,824 research collaborations with business were live at the end of 2018 and more than 200 licences to intellectual property were issued to companies, alongside 119 active spin-out companies that have emerged from research performing organisations.

Ireland’s success in attracting foreign direct investment is widely acknowledged and has been a key plank of our economic model since TK Whitaker opened the country to global markets. The research, development and innovation that is now undertaken by companies in the State, whether by multinationals or SMEs, is on the rise.

Figures published by the Department of Business Enterprise and Innovation show that Business Expenditure on R&D (BERD) was €2.8 million in 2018.

We already have an enviable reputation as an innovative and enterprising people. Successfully leveraging our national research bank holds the key to ongoing, sustainable economic prosperity and employment.

 Alison Campbell is a director at KTI Knowledge Transfer Ireland

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