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Introducing the "Innovation and participation of SMEs" programme - the key to making the most of the Fifth Framework Programme

Stimulating, disseminating and exploiting the results of research, in particular for the benefit of small and medium-sized enterprises, is the aim of the forthcoming EU programme entitled "Innovation and participation of SMEs". This is one of the specific programmes which will...

Stimulating, disseminating and exploiting the results of research, in particular for the benefit of small and medium-sized enterprises, is the aim of the forthcoming EU programme entitled "Innovation and participation of SMEs". This is one of the specific programmes which will implement the new Fifth Framework Programme, due to be launched for the beginning of 1999. Here we look in detail at the activities to be supported by this programme, on the basis of the Commission's formal proposal [COM(1998) 305], adopted on 13 May 1998. The strategic objectives.... The debate in Europe launched by the Commission's 1995 Green Paper on Innovation has emphasised how important innovation is for developing industrial competitiveness, for ensuring sustainable economic and social development and for creating jobs. Whilst research is a key element, innovation depends on a much wider range of inter-locking influences. The Commission aims to ensure that the new Framework Programme is much more geared to innovation than its predecessors, forming a major plank in the implementation of the First Action Plan on Innovation. SMEs, of which there are millions in Europe, are key vectors for innovation, with the potential to benefit from emerging technologies, stimulating growth and creating employment. Their size calls for special measures to encourage their participation in European research, widening their horizons both to participate in research activities and to take on board new technologies. Promoting innovation and encouraging SMEs to participate in EU research are closely linked activities, and the new programme will seek to optimise efforts in both these areas. It will work both to coordinate activities carried out in other specific programmes within the Fifth Framework Programme, and to complement these activities with its own distinct initiatives. The overall aim of these activities will be to improve the economic and social impact of research, by ensuring better dissemination and exploitation of its results, and encouraging the transfer and dissemination of technologies. Coordination - getting more from the Framework Programme.... Each thematic programme will have an "Innovation unit", designed to foster the exploitation of results from that programme, using initiatives and techniques appropriate to the field. These units will be responsible for the bulk of such activities, whereas the Innovation and SMEs programme will support and coordinate their activities, for example by following up technology transfer, by encouraging investors to support new technologies, and by developing support networks, both physical and electronic, throughout Europe. The programme will also coordinate the schemes designed to encourage SMEs to participate in the thematic programmes, in particular through providing a one-stop entry point. The "cooperative research" scheme (CRAFT) allows several SMEs to club together to resolve common technological problems, either themselves or through a third party. Other measures, such as "exploratory awards", can help SMEs with the preparatory work needed to participate in cooperative projects, allowing easier access to support from the thematic programmes. Activities under the Innovation and SMEs programme.... Having seen the coordination role within the Fifth Framework Programme, we now look at the distinct activities which the Innovation and SMEs programme will support, complementing the thematic programmes. Some are aimed specifically at the promotion of innovation, and others at encouraging SMEs to participate in European research, whilst some address both objectives. - Promoting innovation These activities will help to promote a favourable environment for innovation in Europe, and establish a framework allowing a large number of economic operators to benefit from innovation: . Making better use of the results of Community research With the aim of making greater use of research results, activities here will identify and design mechanisms to facilitate the protection of intellectual property, the exploitation of results and their transfer, and develop access to private finance for using results. The use of such mechanisms will be encouraged in the thematic programmes, through promotion and exchanges of information and best practice. . New approaches to technology transfer As a contribution to developing an "innovation culture" in Europe, this action will encourage experiments for the transfer of technology on an international scale. These will develop, validate and implement methods for promoting the take-up of new technologies, and the dissemination and use of results (including those from sources other than the Framework Programme) across national borders. . Studies and good practice To improve Europe's innovation performance, the EU will identify, analyse and promote good practices in innovation. An "innovation trend chart" will track developments in policy across Europe, while the programme will organise schemes to promote good practices, and establish a knowledge base on innovation policies, in particular concerning the financing, setting up and development of businesses and the protection and transfer of new technologies. - Encouraging SME participation . A one-stop entry point This will make it easier for SMEs to participate in the thematic programmes, offering an additional means of access, through a single entry point common to all programmes, with the aid of existing support networks in the Member States. This structure will promote the programmes to SMEs, raising awareness of their importance and impact, and providing information and advice on the preparation of proposals. It will also allow SMEs to make their needs known. Participation will be made easier for SMEs, particularly through a permanently open call for the specific SME measures, such as the cooperative research scheme and the exploratory awards. . Joint support and assistance instruments Participation will be made easier for SMEs through the simplification and harmonisation of conditions, particularly through electronic means. This action will develop joint contractual and information management tools, and assistance and training for SMEs, for example, workshops on project coordination and management. These will be backed up with electronic information packages, and electronic proposal submission, and a dedicated help line and Intranet system for SME participants. . Economic intelligence This action will help SMEs to identify their needs and anticipate technological trends, and direct them towards appropriate EU instruments. It will identify and analyse information on market trends and the state-of-the-art, using existing sources, and make this information available to SMEs through existing networks and services. - Joint Innovation/SMEs activities . European network for the promotion of research and innovation The different networks providing information and assistance on EU research and innovation activities, in particular Innovation Relay Centres (IRCs) and CRAFT contact points for SMEs, will be rationalised and coordination developed. Activities will be aimed at promoting technology transfer, and establishing transnational partnerships and cooperative activities between companies, as well as providing assistance to firms participating in EU research. . Electronic information services and other means of dissemination Using electronic services, all the information needed to publicise research and innovation activities more effectively will be grouped together. CORDIS will be consolidated and developed, with the aim of improving ease of access, adapting the content to the needs of SMEs and developing new tools to aid users. ERGO (European Research Gateway On-line) will be developed from the existing pilot, to establish a link between CORDIS and national scientific and technical information sources. . Intellectual property This action will encourage the use of knowledge protection systems, both to protect companies' new technologies and to gather information about new technologies with potential uses for companies, and facilitate access to information on intellectual property. A help desk will be set up to provide information to participants in EU research, and a new patent information system will be complemented by pilot activities such as the Quick Scan service which evaluates the innovative nature of new project proposals. . Access to private innovation financing Providing SMEs, particularly those participating in EU research, with information and advice about financing opportunities in the private sector is the aim of this action. It will also aim to promote cooperation between financiers, researchers and industry. An information and assistance service will be backed up by activities to raise awareness and build links between investors and researchers. Building transnational networks and exchanging experiences of new approaches to technology financing will also be supported. . Mechanisms to facilitate the setting-up and development of innovative firms New approaches to support the setting-up and development of innovative firms and encourage private investment in such firms will be the focus of this action. Among the activities supported here will be studies of the obstacles to private financing of innovation and measures to encourage it, initiatives to target venture capital on innovative high-tech projects, following up the I-TEC pilot project for example, and assistance to fund managers in acquiring expertise in managing technological projects. Getting the programme off the ground.... The Commission's proposals for specific programmes flesh out the structure of the Fifth Framework Programme on which the Parliament and Council are now largely in agreement, other than on the budget. This is not, however, likely to be adopted formally until late in 1998. In the meantime, both Parliament and Council will launch discussions on the specific programmes, with the aim of getting them adopted as soon after the Framework Programme as possible. The first calls for proposals would then be launched shortly afterwards, on the basis of work programmes, currently being elaborated, which spell out in detail the activities to be supported by each programme.