Scoreboard – OECD 1: UK ?

by | Oct 30, 2011 | Science and Innovation | 0 comments

The OECD released the 10th edition of its Science, Technology and Innovation Scoreboard for 2011 in September and having waded through the pages of figures trying to digest and evaluate their significance – the picture, at least in the traditional areas of achievement for the UK, appears to look fairly positive.

The assessments of scientific publications and citation performance continue to place the UK in a relatively strong position with our best performing disciplines in the agricultural and biological sciences, environmental science and medicine. Following-up close behind with a fair showing are the subjects of biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology, earth and planetary sciences, and neuroscience. Interestingly the UK was singled out in the report for its social sciences, “a field in which the UK plays a key role” it seems.

In my previous blog I harangued The Minister of Universities and Science, the Rt Hon. David Willetts MP for his mocking attitude towards counting patents as a measure of commercial output when on international rankings we did not perform too well. However, in this latest OECD scoreboard the UK has something to celebrate in that the nation is actually above average for its quality of patents in the fields of semiconductors and of environmental technology – both key areas for commercial development. Sadly though its not all good news, for the overall the average quality of patents has declined by around 20% in the last ten years, thankfully however, not just in the UK, but across all OECD countries.

I find these statistics interesting because I am always mindful of how we effectively measure the value and impact of innovation, particularly that component that is not necessarily related to technological innovation – administrative, general, informal or non-technological innovation. With evidence mounting from economic modeling that the role of technological innovation is less important than previously envisaged (Dent Associates White Paper 11-03 www.dentassociates.co.uk), I am always interested how the role of non-technological – administrative innovation is fairing and being assessed, not least because evidence suggests that UK companies are receptive to the uptake and adoption of administrative innovation (UNESCO 2010). One of the measures used by OECD to assess the combination of product and service innovation is that of trade marks. According to the OECD, with their very broad range of applications, trade marks convey information on product innovations but also on marketing and service innovations, acting as a proxy for non-technological innovations. The UK is ranked twelfth among OECD and BRIC countries with regard to average trade mark applications relative to GDP, and higher than Netherlands, Germany, France and Italy.

There are many interesting things arising from the scoreboard but one other key point that caught my attention was the observation that scientific collaboration seems to be shifting from individuals to groups, from single to multiple institutions, and from a national to an international scope. The scoreboard demonstrates that researchers are increasingly networked across national and organisational borders. The OECD argue that greater scientific specialisation and cross-border collaboration can result in increased innovation because each country then draws on a larger pool of expertise, and hence international research collaborations can be expected to have a bigger impact in terms of citations of scientific publications. Differences across countries suggest a positive relationship between measures of research openness and scientific impact, the latter proxied by the average normalised citation index. However, while everything may appear positive for the UK with regard to collaborative publication of scientific results, I have genuine concerns about how such collaboration translates into economic benefit – and who it is that actually benefits. It would make sense that every nation would prioritse mechanisms for capturing value for national companies and their respective economy’s. Hence the question has to be asked whether the means of securing commercial value from collaborative effort are robust enough to gain value for UK plc. Given a relatively poor track record in achieving this in the UK from internally produced intellectual property, it seems unlikely that we can draw much comfort in this regard from international research collaboration. Lets hope I am wrong.

David Dent
CEO Dent Associates

References:

OECD (2011) OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2011: Innovation and Growth in Knowledge Economies. OECD September 2011. p. 204.

UNESCO (2010) UNESCO Science Report 2010: The Current Status of Science around the World. UNESCO Publishing. 536 pp.

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