Friday, 25 October 2013
Take a country like Israel, which is seen as an example of the use of effective public moneys for innovative research and development. A primary vehicle for this funding is the so-called Office of the Chief Scientist (known as the OCS), which extends financial support for innovative activity by recipient companies, here. The problem is that OCS funding requires that the intangible “Knowledge” for which read IP, very broadly defined) that is generated from such funding may not be transferred out of the country until the grants have been repaid to the OCS from commercialization of the Knowledge, unless a waiver can be obtained. Underlying this prohibition is the view that OCS funding is, at the end of the day, first and foremost intended to enhance local employment, whereby the commercial success of the company, except to the extent that it contributes to local employment, is a secondary consideration. How strongly this underlying policy is viewed can be seen from the fact that, under the strict letter of the Encouragement of Industrial Research and Development Law, the transfer of Knowledge in an unauthorized fashion might theoretically attract criminal penalties (although this blogger is not aware of any instance in which the criminal sanction has actually been brought to bear).
here, does capture the esteem in which is held a successful hi-tech exit (meaning that the company has been sold to a foreign purchaser or, less likely these days, has successfully floated its shares on a reputable stock exchange), replete with underlying IP and related innovative technology. However, from the point of view of government employment policy, a successful exit typically has, at best, only a modest effect on overall domestic employment. Even assuming that the company maintains an R&D facility in the country after the exit, the primary benefit of a successful exit are the millions, sometimes hundreds of millions of dollars, that go to the investors and founders. Thus, even if the likes of a Google maintains a local R&D facility as a result of the exit, the employment benefits redound to a select few, with the overall national employment situation being largely unaffected.
Israel is brought as an example because its circumstances so vividly underscore the proposition that the development of IP tends to go to the benefit of capital (read investors and founders) rather than labour. But it is hardly alone. Singapore is engaged in an impressive and aggressive push, supported by public funding, to strengthen the position of that island nation as a Global IP hub in Asia, here. As this blogger understands the initiative, underlying it is a concern for the overall employment position in the country. The experience in Israel should be a cautionary tale for Singapore.
Don’t get this blogger wrong: he is all in favour of IP, innovation and successful commercial exits based on them. To the extent that government funds can assist these developments, it is to be encouraged. However, there is palpable and increasing risk here. In an age where public budgets are increasingly scrutinized, a budget line for the support of innovation and R&D, where the benefit fails to redound to the public in the form of increased employment, carries with it a double risk. First, the decoupling of successful innovation and R&D from improved domestic employment threatens to decrease the amount of continued public funding of such activities. Even more ominously, this decoupling may threaten public support for robust IP protection, thereby throwing out the IP baby with the public funding bathwater in a way that this blogger would prefer not to contemplate.