Innovation has long been a contributor to American economic and societal progress, evident in a more than sevenfold increase in per capita income since the 19th century, an additional three decades of average lifespan, a revolution in the way we communicate and share information, and the country’s position as the strongest military power in the world.1 Without its historical leadership in innovation, the United States would be a very different country than it is today.
Yet agreement on what innovation entails or how it can be encouraged and facilitated is hard to find. Innovation often involves scientific and engineering research, and both universities and industry have essential roles to play. What happens at the intersection of these activities and institutions determines how productive the innovation ecosystem will be. But this system is in a constant state of evolution, driven by such forces as the variable pace of science and engineering, unexpected interactions among disciplines, restructuring of industry in a global economy, and the changing role of universities. If the innovation ecosystem is to thrive, it is essential to understand and adapt to these powerful external forces.
The Committee on Science, Engineering, and Public Policy (COSEPUP) of the National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, and Institute of Medicine decided to host a pair of workshops entitled Trends in the Innovation Ecosystem: Can Past Successes Help Inform Future Strategies? to discuss the challenges involved in innovation pathways. Both workshops focused on the interactions between research universities and industry and the concept of innovation as a “culture” as opposed to an operational method. With the intent of stimulating conversation both during and after the workshops, the planning committee brought together representatives of many of the facets of university-industry interface. Recognizing that the views expressed were not exhaustive, the goal was to gain a better understanding of what key factors contributed to successful innovations in the past, how today’s environment might necessitate changes in strategy, and
1 Rising Above the Gathering Storm: Energizing and Employing America for a Brighter Future (Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006).
what changes are likely to occur in the future in the context of a global innovation ecosystem.
On February 26, 2013, the first workshop brought together the members of COSEPUP and nine distinguished speakers from industry, academia, and finance at PARC at Xerox in Palo Alto, CA, to discuss obstacles to university-based innovation, and ways of overcoming those obstacles, focusing on the university side of the interface with industry in America. On May 20, 2013, COSEPUP held a second workshop in Washington, DC, which focused solely on research parks and was composed of two panels of experts on the structure and function of research parks.2
The speakers repeatedly highlighted the concept of culture as key to all aspects of innovation.3 Different sectors and technologies have variations in culture that influence everything from how patents are valued to the time it takes to develop a market-ready product. The culture of universities and the role they play can dramatically influence the innovation ecosystem of a region. At the meeting in California, many of the academic participants actually “straddled” the two worlds of academia and industry, and discussed the difficulties they face in trying to start new companies while maintaining their academic careers. Research parks must be carefully tuned to the cultural needs of the people and industries using their resources to be successful.
But many observers have expressed concern that innovation in the United States is faltering as many centralized industrial research laboratories have disappeared and as the manufacturing sector has contracted. At the conclusion of the two workshops, questions still remained as to how best to move forward (see Box 1-1).
2 A list of the speakers from the workshops can be found in Appendix B.
3 According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary culture is “the integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for learning and transmitting knowledge to succeeding generations.”
Questions to Answer
• Is innovation getting harder?
• Is there a need to reexamine the intellectual property arrangement for basic research results?
• How should the national benefits of private sector enterprises be defined?
• How can the benefits of innovation in a region or country be retained?
• Is it feasible or desirable for the United States to mirror other countries’ policies on subsidizing industries through direct financial support or regulatory collaboration?
• How will new immigration policies affect high-skill labor markets and the innovation ecosystem?
• What is the appropriate role of federal and state regulations and funding?
This summary of the presentations and discussions from the workshops organizes the discussion thematically. Chapter 2 examines the general principles that underlie university-based innovation, including the importance of people, culture, and experience as discussed during the February workshop. Chapter 3 considers the differences among industrial sectors and among technologies to explore the factors that contribute to successful innovation. Chapter 4 looks specifically at the roles of universities in preparing students, transferring technology to industry, and enabling faculty members to engage in entrepreneurial activities. Chapter 5 discusses the role of research parks, the variation that exists in their structures, and the importance of localization and adaptability to parks specifically and innovation in general. Chapter 6 asks how public policies in such areas as regulation, taxation, research funding, and immigration could reinvigorate university-based innovation in the United States.
The report has been prepared by the workshop rapporteurs as a factual summary of what occurred at the workshops. The planning committee’s role was limited to planning and convening the workshops. The views contained in the report are those of individual workshop participants and do not necessarily represent the views of all workshop participants, the planning committee, or the National Research Council.