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The Government Role in Civilian Technology: Building a New Alliance
dustrial users are an important element in the biomedical industry’s success in transforming laboratory R&D into commercial applications.
Finally, NIH’s historic tradition of decentralized peer review of research proposals has helped provide protection from political interference for the tens of thousands of research proposals examined each year by 139 review councils and panels. From the beginning, the Office of Research Grants emphasized the “integrity and independence of the research worker and his freedom from control, direction, regimentation and outside interference."30 As in other fields, independence from political interference has fostered continuity in research and helped preserve the independence of scientific inquiry and projects.
The Civil Aircraft Industry
The U.S. government played a strategic role in the development of a civilian aircraft sector. A central focus of this involvement was funding of applied research and construction of aircraft prototypes. The government conducted most R&D in aviation prior to World War II, at which time the growth in military and private sector aviation reduced the governmental role in civilian R&D.
From its founding in 1915 to its absorption by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was the predominant government body supporting civil aircraft R&D. NACA was formed during World War I, when biplanes were used for reconnaissance and dirigibles were used in bombing.31 Beginning with work on a new wind tunnel at Langley, Virginia, NACA was responsible for a series of aeronautical innovations that helped foster the establishment of a U.S. aircraft industry. The development of an engine cowl reduced wind drag, research in aerodynamic efficiency assisted determination of optimal engine placement, and a new family of airfoils allowed engineers to test new shapes in wing design. Furthermore, by publishing technical documents on aviation engineering, NACA became recognized as a world-class authority on aeronautics. NACA appropriations through 1940 totaled $81 million (1972 dollars).32 The number of NACA employees did not exceed 100 until 1925 and was less than 300 as late as 1935.33 Experience with federal technology developments in this program shows that significant accomplishments in pre-commercial and applied R&D do not necessarily depend on large expenditures of funds for each research project.
Regulatory policies also had an impact on the development of the civil aviation industry. NACA-sponsored discussions on an industry-wide cross-licensing agreement led to the transfer of technology among companies. Under the accord, companies gave up exclusive patent rights that might have served to promote a single firm’s technological dominance.