Nanoforum commercialisation workshop identifies need for greater industrial engagement
Nanoforum, the thematic network funded by the EU under the Fifth Framework Programme (FP5), has identified three key challenges for the development of nanotechnology in Europe: a low level of venture capital investment, low patenting rates, and low investment from industry
According to the Nanoforum report, the first priority is to increase the very low proportion (only 3.5%) of global nanotechnology venture capital invested in Europe.
Despite public funding being on a par with that of the US, Europe, it seems, is also lagging behind in the number of nanotechnology patents granted. Industrial investment in nanotechnology is also only half that in the US and Japan.
For the authors of the report, the low level of venture capital is largely due to a shortage of suitable investment targets. Companies lack focused business models, commercial experience, and exit strategies. Whilst public funding sources may take the place of venture capital, the concern is that companies will then miss out on the other benefits that investors would bring, such as in-depth industry awareness and networks.
Low patent productivity is seen a consequence of the difficulty involved in identifying the commercial potential of research. This could be explained by the fact that research is not always aligned with the needs of industry. This could be due to reasons of motivation (publications being more highly prized) and patenting capability.
As for low industrial investment, while there are nanotechnology 'global leaders' in Europe, a failure to activate wider industrial interest is underscored in the report: a company contemplating an investment in nanotechnology development could be dissuaded by the obvious challenges (production scale-up, health and safety concerns) if it does not understand the less obvious opportunities that nanotechnology brings.
According to the report, these three challenges have a common solution. Its authors state that public funding for nanotechnology development must encourage greater funding from private sources. But in order for this to happen, an understanding of the industrial or consumer problems must be developed, which must then be fed back into research and development (R&D).
Furthermore, this can be done in several ways. Technology-led 'roadmapping' could be improved by industry-led 'visions' which set out real industrial challenges. Funding priority could also be given to projects which meet those challenges, and which combine academic and industrial participants.
Also, researchers should be incentivised to produce patents as well as publications. Universities should also work on their ability to rapidly assess the value of a potential patent (again this is facilitated by understanding the problems that remain to be solved).
Finally, the wide range of European industry that has not yet been 'activated' should also take responsibility for understanding the opportunities of nanotechnology, and identifying with whom they need to partner in order to meet those opportunities.
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Data Source Provider: Nanoforum
Document Reference: Based on information from Nanoforum
Subject Index: Coordination, Cooperation; Economic Aspects; Innovation, Technology Transfer; Materials Technology; Scientific Research