A few days ago I wrote a brief post about decoupling academic research from industrial development. A few people have asked me about it; it seems that I didn’t make it clear enough.
Look at this picture:
This picture corresponds to an ideal world, not to our reality. In the diagram, circles represent activities and rectangles represent entities. The three large coloured rectangles represent the dynamics of individuals (blue), academic research (green) and industrial development (red). Solid arrows depict the sequence of activities, and dashed arrows depict contents (such as information or things) being deposited into or taken from entities.
For example, look at the top third of the diagram. Individuals earn money according to their socioeconomic context, and employ this money to buy products from the market and pay taxes that contribute to the available public research funds.
Similarly, the middle third of the diagram shows how academia designs research proposals according to the socioeconomic context and any available outcomes of prior research efforts, obtain funds from public sources, perform their research, and finally disseminate the outcomes back to the research outcome pool.
Industry works as shown by the bottom third of the diagram. Market needs are determined first, according (again) to the socioeconomic context and the current characteristics of the market. Then, products are specified, and the research outcome pool is examined in search of potentially useful items that could help develop the specified product. Whether or not research outcomes are selected, the product is developed and marketed.
Notice how academia and industry operate in separate, loosely-coupled loops. This is the key point in my argument: decoupling. Inputs to the academic loop are the socioeconomic context, the research outcome pool and the public funds. No market needs whatsoever. Inputs to the industry development loop are the socioeconomic context, the markets and the research outcome pool. No public funds whatsoever.
The loose coupling between the two loops occurs via the research outcome pool, which is maintained by academia and exploited by academia and industry. In this scenario, R&D departments of industry would re-focus on technological surveilance and research outcome exploitation rather than performing “real” research.
The major consequences of this model are two. First, no public funds flow directly into industry, which, from my point of view, is fair; companies should pay for their own work. Second, research outcomes belong to the public domain and can be exploited by anybody; the best products will be developed by the most competent companies, not by those who manage to obtain better public funding.
Should we keep dreaming?