According to a US government report, the US has a very narrow lead in supporting science and technology (S & T) research. From the Jan. 18, 2012 news item on physorg.com,
“This information clearly shows we must re-examine long-held assumptions about the global dominance of the American science and technology enterprise,” said NSF (US National Science Foundation) Director Subra Suresh of the findings in the Science and Engineering Indicators 2012 released today. “And we must take seriously new strategies for education, workforce development and innovation in order for the United States to retain its international leadership position,” he said.
According to the new Indicators 2012, the largest global S&T gains occurred in the so-called “Asia-10″–China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan and Thailand–as those countries integrate S&T into economic growth. Between 1999 and 2009, for example, the U.S. share of global research and development (R&D) dropped from 38 percent to 31 percent, whereas it grew from 24 percent to 35 percent in the Asia region during the same time.
In China alone, R&D growth increased a stunning 28 percent in a single year (2008-2009), propelling it past Japan and into second place behind the United States.
There has been mounting concern in the US about its eroding leadership position. In fact, Barack Obama’s administration released in 2009 a document, Strategy for American Innovation, to address this situation. The administration recently released a new (2012?) Strategy for American Innovation document to update and enhance the previous document. Here are the new initiatives that have been added (from the executive summary for the new Strategy for American Innovation),
Key Administration priorities will improve America’s economic growth and competitiveness on many critical dimensions.
- The Administration’s proposed Wireless Initiative will help businesses reach 98% of Americans with high-speed wireless access within five years and also facilitate the creation of a nationwide interoperable public safety network. The Initiative will substantially expand the development of new wireless spectrum available for wireless broadband, by freeing up 500 MHz over 10 years. Expanding new commercial spectrum is necessary to avoid “spectrum crunch” and facilitate the rapidly growing wireless technology revolution. The initiative will support advances in security, reliability, and other critical wireless features; accelerate wireless innovations in health, education, transportation, and other application areas; and engage community participation in generating and demonstrating next generation wireless applications.
- The patent reform agenda is essential to reducing the enormous backlog of patent applications at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO). By stalling the delivery of innovative goods and services to market, this backlog impedes economic growth and the creation of high-paying jobs. The patent reform legislative agenda will enable the USPTO to adequately fund its operations through user fees and allow the agency to implement new initiatives to improve patent quality while reducing the average delay in patent processing times from 35 months to 20 months. Once implemented, the USPTO’s proposed three-track model will allow applicants to prioritize applications, enabling the most valuable patents to come to market within 12 months.
- The Administration is developing new initiatives to improve K-12 education with an emphasis on graduating every student from high school ready for college and a career. The Administration’s FY 2012 Budget will launch the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Education (ARPA-ED) to support research on breakthrough technologies to enhance learning. The Budget also supports continuation of the historic Race to the Top, with an expanded focus on school districts prepared to implement and sustain comprehensive reforms. Working with a coalition of private sector leaders called Change the Equation, the Administration is encouraging public-private partnerships that inspire more students – including girls and other currently underrepresented groups – to excel in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). The Administration will also work to prepare 100,000 STEM teachers over the next decade with a down payment in the FY 2012 Budget to recruit STEM teachers and improve teacher training.
- To accelerate the development of clean energy technologies, the President has proposed a Clean Energy Standard that will help us reach a goal of delivering 80% of the nation’s electricity from clean sources by 2035. The Administration’s FY 2012 Budget proposes to expand the funding to date for the Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy (ARPA-E) and to create three new Energy Innovations Hubs to solve challenges in critical areas. The Budget also proposes a reauthorization of the Clean Energy Manufacturing Tax Credit and provides funding for research, development, and deployment to help the U.S. reach the goal of one million advanced technology vehicles on the road by 2015.
- The Startup America initiative will facilitate entrepreneurship across the country, increasing the success of high-growth startups that create broad economic growth and quality jobs. The Administration launched the Startup America initiative with new agency efforts that accelerate the transfer of research breakthroughs from university labs; create two $1 billion initiatives for impact investing and early-stage seed financing, among other incentives to invest in high-growth startups; improve the regulatory environment for starting and growing new businesses; and increase connections between entrepreneurs and high-quality business mentors. Responding to the President’s call to action around the national importance of entrepreneurship, private-sector leaders are independently committing significant new resources to catalyze and develop entrepreneurial ecosystems across the country.
There are two initiatives that are particularly interesting to me, the first one being patent reform. The wording on this one suggests the big problem is a backlog but clearing the backlog won’t solve all the problems with patents. As I noted in my Patents as weapons and obstacles post of Oct. 31, 2011 companies routinely use patents as a means of inhibiting competition and innovation. How is giving the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) more funding for staff positions going to address that problem?
The Startup America is the other initiative I found interesting as I don’t understand how this is going to help entrepreneurship in the US. It looks like more government money will be spent to fund startups, which is, no doubt, a good thing. What I find puzzling is that the wording of the initiative doesn’t indicate a grasp of any issue beyond that of getting people to create startups. The issue isn’t just funding at an early stage of development; it’s getting enough capitalization to launch the company into profitability. Tomorrow, I’ll publish a post with an example of a company (Canadian but I’m sure entrepreneurs from other countries will tell you the same thing happens there) facing that problem (ETA Jan. 22, 2012: my Jan.19, 2012 posting about D-Wave Systems).
Getting back to where I started originally, there is great concern in the US now (and for some years) about losing its leadership role in science and technology. While Canadians have not been in the position of losing leadership, it is fascinating to note the similarities.
There’s one more thing in the Jan. 18, 2012 news item (on physorg.com), the US National Science Foundation (NSF) revealed its initiatives to address innovation,
NSF has launched a number of new initiatives designed to better position the United States globally and at home by enhancing international collaborations, improving education and establishing new partnerships between NSF-supported researchers and those in industry, for example.
- Science Across Virtual Institutes (SAVI) fosters interaction among scientists, engineers and educators around the globe. Because S&T excellence exists in many parts of the world, scientific advances can be accelerated when scientists and engineers work together across international borders. The Wireless Innovation Between Finland and the United States, for instance, provides a platform for building long-term research and education collaborations between the U.S. and Finland-two world leaders in wireless technology-who have formed a virtual institute to study dynamic radio spectrum access. SAVI collaborations are also underway between U.S. teams and researchers in India, Brazil, France, Germany, Israel, Singapore and the United Kingdom.
- The NSF Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, a public-private partnership, will connect NSF-funded scientific research with the technological, entrepreneurial and business communities to help create a stronger national ecosystem for innovation. NSF, the Deshpande Foundation, and the Kauffman Foundation are founding members along with a national network of advisors and partnering institutions. Technology developers, business leaders, venture capitalists and others from private industry will provide critical expertise to help transform scientific and engineering results into potentially successful technologies.
- NSF investment in advanced manufacturing holds great potential for significant short-term and long-term economic impact by promising entirely new classes and families of products that were previously unattainable, including emerging opportunities in cyber-physical systems, advanced robotics, nano-manufacturing, and sensor- and model-based smart manufacturing.
- Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability, or (SEES), is a cross-disciplinary approach to sustainability science designed to spark innovations for tomorrow’s clean energy. It will also improve our capabilities for rapid response to extreme events.
The report first mentioned, Science and Engineering Indicators 2012, is not yet available in its entirety (full access Feb. 15, 2012) but you can access portions here. The speech by Dr. Subra Suresh for the FY2012 funding request for the National Science Foundation was supposed to be available by now, hopefully when you try it will be.
Tags: Engineering and Education for Sustainability, I-Corps, NSB, NSF, NSF Innovation Corps, patent reform, SAVI, science, Science Across Virtual Institutes, Science and Engineering Indicators 2012, SEES, Startup America, Strategy for American Innovation, Subra Suresh, US National Science Board, US National Science Foundation