[LINK] Einstein's fridge an example for NICTA?

Tom Worthington Tom.Worthington at tomw.net.au
Mon Dec 11 09:26:52 AEDT 2006

I wrote Mon, 04 Dec 2006 08:43:00 +1100 (was: "IT Innovation Seminar, 
6 December, Canberra"

>The Challenges of Research in ICT:  What can we learn from the Past 
>- with a focus on the case of INRIA, France ... Professor Alain 
>Bensoussan ... University of Texas ... 6 December, 2006 ...

Professor Bensoussan talked about the role of government funded IT 
research organisations, such as INRIA (the French research body he 
headed), in supporting national goals for industry development. He 
argued that INRIA had been successful in producing good fundamental research.

Professor Bensoussan is in Australia talking to NICTA and his 
comments were very relevant to NICTA. Like France, Australia had a 
blend of government and private organisations involved in research. 
It has provincial and national governments with diverging interests 
in economic development. It has to come to terms with the 
globalisation of industry and of research and development.

Professor Bensoussan argued Australia was well placed as a western 
country in Asia to take advantage of opportunities in Asia, China and 
India. Having visited China and India, I have seen those 
opportunities, but how do we make them happen?

What was less convincing in Professor Bensoussan's talk was his 
argument as to the value of organisations such as INIRA and NICTA to 
their national sponsors. He argued the US "Stanford Model" of 
spinoffs from research into companies did not fit with the European 
approach to R&D. However, he was unable to point to a successful 
alternative in Europe, with IT research funded by government leading 
to industrial development.

This points to a major weakness in the Government strategy behind the 
development of NICTA. Essentially NICTA follows the European model: 
fund good research and hope it is of economic benefit somehow, some 
time. The result is likely to be the same as in the French case: the 
rest of the world will thank Australia for contributing to the 
overall increase in knowledge and then commercially exploit our 
research to sell products back to us.

We should not be surprised if NICTA fails to produce any economic 
benefit for Australia, if we fail to plan how to obtain such benefit. 
One alternative model is the "Cambridge Phenomenon", which I saw on a 
visit to the University of Cambridge (England). This model has the 
university actively involved in investment in startup ventures based 
on the university research. But it also has informal connections 
between the researchers and industry. A contributing factor is the 
limited tenure of the researchers, so they are forced to go out and 
set up a company after a time.

Whatever the model, we need one. All those conducting research at 
NICTA using government money need to be asked the question I ask 
every PHD candidate giving a seminar at the ANU: "How are we going to 
make money out of this?".

ps: Perhaps we can draw inspiration from Albert Einstein. While doing 
fundamental research he patented a refrigerator, which was licensed 
to European appliance makers, who paid royalties: 

Tom Worthington FACS HLM tom.worthington at tomw.net.au Ph: 0419 496150
Director, Tomw Communications Pty Ltd            ABN: 17 088 714 309
PO Box 13, Belconnen ACT 2617                http://www.tomw.net.au/
Visiting Fellow, ANU      Blog: http://www.tomw.net.au/blog/atom.xml  

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