Box 5.2. Public support for the transfer and spread of technology
While 80 per cent of the transition countries that participated in the EBRD’s survey on innovation policy in summer 2014 regarded support for the transfer of technology from science to industry as important or highly important, only half of them regarded support for firms’ adoption of existing technology as equally important.
On closer inspection, even in those countries where the adoption of existing technology is an explicit priority, policies typically focus on fostering links between industry and science, rather than helping firms to absorb and adapt foreign technology.
Public support for the transfer of technology comes in different forms. It includes: R&D cooperation centres; technology transfer offices; grants promoting cooperation between industry and science; innovation vouchers (which can be used for specific purposes); exchange programmes for people working in academia and industry; and information dissemination services.
For instance, in the early 2000s Hungary established a network of 19 cooperative research centres (CRCs) and 19 regional knowledge centres (RKCs)26 with the aim of strengthening links between industry and science and promoting the spread of technology.27 Between 2007 and 2009 public support provided to firms by those CRCs and RKCs totalled €34 million. This support helped them to purchase equipment, acquire external expertise and protect intellectual property rights. In addition, 15 technology transfer offices help researchers in major universities with their patenting, licensing and fundraising activities.28
Many countries finance joint R&D projects that bring together representatives of the scientific community and industry. In Armenia, for instance, the State Committee of Science, which was established in 2007, supports cooperation between industry and science in areas chosen by public agencies where there is the potential for research to be commercialised. In 2011, for example, 11 projects received funding totalling €2.4 million.29 In Moldova, the Agency for Innovation and Technology Transfer provides grants to small consortiums of researchers and businesses conducting innovation and technology transfer projects (with a total of 17 projects being supported in 2014). Projects are selected annually on the basis of a competitive evaluation of funding proposals. At least 50 per cent of a project’s funding must come from private sources and can be in-kind.30 The programme’s overall budget for the period 2005-12 totalled €5.3 million.31
Some countries use innovation voucher schemes to foster the transfer of knowledge from academic and public research organisations to SMEs. In 2008, for example, Bulgaria launched a scheme which covers the cost of consultancy services provided by external experts. Two options are available under the scheme: vouchers for up to €2,500 and vouchers for up to €7,500. The latter requires co-financing totalling at least 20 per cent. This programme’s budget for the period 2008-10 was €2.3 million.32
Staff exchanges are another important channel supporting the transfer of knowledge between different parts of a national innovation system. Between 2007 and 2009 Romania provided funding to PhD students undertaking three months of cross-sector training in a public or private research laboratory as part of a human resources programme under the 2007-13 National RDI Plan.33 The maximum financial support provided was RON 8,500, covering mobility expenses and up to 30 per cent of charges for access to research infrastructure.34
Some countries also use information dissemination services to promote awareness of new technologies and inventions among the business community. In 2012 the Kyrgyz Republic launched a three-year programme aimed at innovative SMEs with a budget of €17,000. An initial survey was conducted in order to analyse the use of new technologies and the level of innovation in the country. Nine public centres providing patent search services have now been established, and training for SMEs focusing on the transfer of technology is scheduled for 2014.35
Significant amounts are being spent on the transfer and spread of technology, but it is not entirely clear whether these initiatives are proving successful in terms of creating better links between science and industry. Box 5.3 looks at the results in more detail.