Niall McMahon

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Innovation is Academic

2008-02

Niall McMahon

It was interesting to read Jordan and O'Leary's article in January's Innovation supplement of the Irish Times entitled Innovation is Not Academic. Our office exists in part to demonstrate that the opposite is true; innovation is academic.

An equally suitable headline based on the results presented could be Innovation with Academia, How Irish Companies are Missing Out. Abroad, evidence indicates that interaction with academia does help companies to generate new ideas; if Irish-based companies are not capitalising on academic relationships and report unsatisfactory collaborations, then we need to examine why this is so.

A real danger is that this article's apparent message will be recycled as a common truth. On January 24th, John Collins, taking his cue from the strong editorial tone, summarised its authors' conclusion as third-level research "has a limited effect" on business innovation and that they questioned why it was Government policy. This was not the conclusion, and it is not true, but it was implied, e.g. third level institutes have rarely been the main source of business innovation in any country (no different to observing that Ferrari is not the principal supplier of motorcars!).

Last year, the Economist identified Apple Computer's strength in its contact with start-ups and academia. Bill Gates has highlighted academic collaboration as key to future innovation. 10% of US business innovations across seven industries are directly helped by academic research. High technologies, pharmaceutics and biotechnologies and more have all directly benefited from academic partnerships: academia is a driver of innovation.

Rather than generalising specific results and polarising this important issue, it will be more useful to consider the reasons why companies responded as they did and what can be done. A good example of positive action is Enterprise Ireland's current innovation voucher scheme.

Jordan and O'Leary's results show that Irish-based companies, and academics, are missing out, because innovation is academic.