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Commission seeks fast track to unlocking Europe's innovation potential

The European Commission has published a communication, calling for further political commitment to boosting Europe's innovative capacity. The paper will be at the heart of discussions at an informal meeting of EU's Heads of State and Government, to take place on 20 October in ...

Policy making and guidelines

The European Commission has published a communication, calling for further political commitment to boosting Europe's innovative capacity. The paper will be at the heart of discussions at an informal meeting of EU's Heads of State and Government, to take place on 20 October in Lahti, Finland.

Following on from the recently launched10-point innovation action plan, which provides a 'broad based strategy' for the overhaul of Europe's innovation system, the communication focuses on three areas it suggests have the potential to produce very significant benefits in a relatively short space of time.

The first is the need to overcome the dispersion of limited resources. The Commission suggests that this can be best done through a stronger commitment by national and regional public authorise to making the European Technology Platforms (ETPs) a success. ETPs are an 'excellent instrument for greater collaboration and the achievement of critical mass,' reads the paper.

Some ETPs have achieved such a scale and scope that they have required the setting up of dedicated public-private partnerships - so-called Joint Technology Initiatives (JTIs) - which the Commission says will lead to higher, more stable commitments to research investment over a longer term. The Commission intends to publish a road map for the early launch of the most mature JTIs by the end of 2006.

Forging much stronger links between universities, research and business is seen as a second important area where further support and commitment is required. In the past, universities would develop new knowledge, which, when mature might be picked up by business for commercial application. But this innovation model is out of date, 'far too much knowledge remains locked up in the universities and the development of new knowledge takes too little account of the needs of business,' reads the Commission proposal. It points to the proven benefits of universities, small and large companies, research and knowledge transfer institutes, and investors working within clusters.

The proposal to create a European Institute of Technology (EIT) would also ensure stronger cooperation between academy and industry. 'The EIT will help pool Europe's resources, mobilise private sector funding for cutting edge research, attract the best researchers from all over the world, stimulate spin-offs of innovative SMEs [small to medium enterprises], and in doing so could become the symbol of Europe's ability to work together and innovate,' reads the Commission paper.

Further support is also required to ensure that the general framework conditions for innovation are in place. These include a fully functional single market which enables larges companies and SMEs to compete globally; the introduction of mechanisms to increase access to early stage financing; and faster setting of open and interoperable standards.

Finally, Europe needs a clear and coherent legal framework on intellectual property rights (IPR). 'Whilst views may differ on the design of the most effective framework, most agree that Europe's current industrial and intellectual priority regimes has failed to keep pace with fast (single) market integration, rapid technological change and chaining business methods,' reads the paper. While waiting for the adoption of a cost-effective Community Patent, the paper suggests that Member States and the Commission should work together to make existing patent systems more efficient. The Commission has already embarked on a wide-ranging review of IPR policy and aims to propose concrete steps towards a modern and affordable framework before the 2007 Spring European Council.

Speaking at a press conference on the EIT, Commission President José Manuel Barroso said that innovation would be at the 'core' of talks between the EU's Heads of State and Government when they meet informally in Lahti, Finland, on 20 October.