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June 01, 2011

Framework and the Innovation Union live blog - 1 of 3

Welcome to Research Europe's Framework and the Innovation Union live blog from The International Auditorium in Brussels. Our first session today is Policy Context - The Innovation Union.

Our speakers are the director general of DG Research and Innovation at the European Commission, Robert-Jan Smits, Jan van den Biesen, vice president of public R&D Programmes at Philips Research and Theodore Papazoglou, Head of Unit A1, Support to the European Research Council. Their chairman is deputy secretary general of the European Universities Association, John Smith.

Please read from the bottom up.


That's all for this session, we've just broken here for a coffee break. Thanks for followng the blog this morning and please rejoin us for the next session at 12pm which will be on Carving Up the Pie.


Papazoglou says the data question is not yet solved across the world and in some places researchers are having to destroy it.

Van den Biesen insists open access on data must be voluntary – if a university must publish all data the day after they take it, Philips cannot work with them, he says. 

Finally on funding for commercialisation, as much as Framework funding can be useful, it simply cannot do it, as commercialising take one or two orders of magnitude more funding than the research itself.


On joint programming, Smits says this has to be pursued as part of the "new deal". "When we in Europe unite we are the best in the world – take CERN. Why haven’t we done that in other areas?" he asks.

A question from a representative of the Danish ministry of science and technology on to what extent the Common Strategic Framework will be able to span the valley of death from basic research to commercialisation. Smits says the answer is “quite far”, especially for young companies exploiting research results.


A question on whether open access of publications is enough and whether data should be open too so that other researchers can evaluate and recreate work. Smits says this is one of the main challenges with many outstanding questions. The commission is working on a policy paper on data, he says.


We’re now in the Q&A section of the session. A question comes in from Jerzy Langer on the high concentration of research funding, and collaboration with the US. Smits says Europe must get better at using its national budgets – the Framework Programme represents only 5 per cent of the total spent on research in Europe.

Papazoglou says the ERC recognises that some regions do not attract as much funding, because funding is based on excellence. But Poland is an excellent example of a country where national programmes are trying to address this issue and reach a level where they will be competitive. The ERC will experiment in non-traditional collaborative funding for 2012, he adds.


Finally, van den Biesen suggests he is unsure about Commission proposals on open access. If it is mandated that the results of all publicly-funded research should be made available as open access – this  could go too far.

There should not be an obligation to publish and the system should not impede the establishing of intellectual property, he says. “If all results are put in the open that could destroy more value than create."


Joint Technology Initiatives do not work, he adds. The next generation of JTIs should not have to stick to status of “community body” but create something new. Van den Biesen hopes Parliament and Council will endorse the Commission's recommendations on this.  

The Commission also needs to look at developing better mechanisms to pool national resources, he adds, addressing the problems of synchronisation between countries, unbalanced budgets and reconciling national interests.


Van den Biesen finishes with some concrete recommendations for the Commission.

The Commission should retain collaborative R&D as the main activity of the next Framework Programme, but also be simplified to increase industry participation – this has dropped from 39 per cent in FP4 to 25 per cent in FP7.

Risky research and trust must also be promoted, with checks and balances cut back to a level that is overall beneficial. Philips has major concerns with a move towards output or results-based financing as it could discourage risky research, he adds.


Van den Biesen is now talking about “open innovation” and a shift from closed research to open innovation, as exemplified in Philips’ Eindhoven campus which includes space for start-up companies, research institutes and shared facilities.


In the future in European 75 per cent of spending should be invested in the knowledge based economy, not its agricultural past, he says.


Business invests where it expect sufficiently attractive returns, he says. Framework conditions in Europe are evidently less valuable than elsewhere and a wide range of policy measures are needed to improve these.

The focus on basic inputs, efficiency in throughput, and ensuring a market demand to pull products and services through are all in the Innovation Union communication, he says. The 3 per cent target should remain as a yardstick.


Jan van den Biesen from Philips Research is now speaking on “re-thinking our approach to innovation”.

He lays out Philips’ worldwide R&D efforts, which include 12,000 R&D staff worldwide and 50,000 patents. The company is addressing new global challenges, similar to the Commission’s, which represent business opportunities.


Papazoglou concludes with the promise that the ERC is taking steps to close the “valley of death” between research and innovation, with its “proof of concept” funding, intended to explore ideas generated by ERC grantees, launched in March 2011.


The ERC creates a “Champions League” for research that raises standards, he says. Although analysis is still in its early stages, the first evidence shows highly non-linear increase in the number of publications in high impact research journals. Results from at least one ERC funded project appears in the journals Nature or Science every two weeks.  


Papazoglou says “great ideas are not enough”.  The creation and support of academic environments that attract and retain excellence are needed. The current situation, where the top academic institutions are in the US, is the reverse of the first part of the 20th century when this was Europe, he says.


Theodore Papazoglou from the ERC is next up. There is deficit in R&D in the Europe, he says. The US still leads the world in R&D expenditure, and there is a gap with respect to highly cited research work.


Smits has just wrapped up his talk, with a positive look at the “clear indications” from the European Parliament and countries such as Germany that the research budget needs to be boosted. The Commission will table proposals on the Common Strategic Framework on 30 November and is still looking for a suitable name, he adds.


Smits is now talking about the Common Strategic Framework, the working name of the next Framework Programme which will combine research and innovation. This will be more trust based, he says, with the Commission “not checking every invoice". It will be constructed of three pillars, basic research, in part through the European Research Council; a focus on Grand Challenges with a move to a more mission-oriented approach; and innovation for competitiveness, through projects such as the public private partnerships, Innovative Medicines Initiative.


Smits says he worries there will be a divide between those investing in the knowledge economy and those not, and eventually between their economies.

Europe must be setting the world standards in technology, he says, for instance with the electric car. Other important developments include the EU patent. Smits says he hopes within two years to be able to allocate a European patent.

More targetted public procurement should also be used to boost research and innovation. Procurement is responsible for 17 per cent GDP in Europe, he says.


Some countries have made a concerted effort to invest in the"knowledge economy". Germany, Sweden and Switzerland are good examples. The input indicator of spending 3 per cent of GDP on research is still relevant, says Smits. It would have given an awful sign to national government to give up, especially atthe same time the US installed a similar target, he says.

China and South Korea are boosting their efforts, and if we are not careful they will overtake us, says Smits.


Robert-Jan Smits is opening with the keynote address. On 29 June the Commission will annouce the next budget, the multiannual financial framework for 2013-2020.

If research and innovation budgets are going to grow, funding will have to come from elsewhere in the budget as the overall budget is unlikley to grow, he suggests.


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