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

Brendan Scott brendansweb at optusnet.com.au
Tue Dec 12 09:51:11 AEDT 2006

Karl Auer wrote:
> On Tue, 2006-12-12 at 07:34 +1100, Tom Worthington wrote:
>> It is desirable that research contributes to the common good. But
>> if the Australian government is funding the research, I think some
>>  effort should be put into some of the commercial benefits going to
>>  Australians. It seems odd to fund research only to benefit our
>> competitors.
> No, no, no, no, NO!
> Fund aAustralian researchers by all means, or only projects where 
> Australians will own the IP ifyou must, but you MUST decouple 
> "commercial benefits" from "research funding".

I disagree with both of you.  

Research should be funded with the aim of producing benefits, otherwise why do it?  The question is how to measure those benefits.  Tom's position (correct me if I'm wrong) is that you measure it by looking at revenue.  I'm saying that there's more than just revenue, there is also reduction in expenses.  It may be of more benefit to Australia if lots of people enjoy a small cost reduction from the research than that a small number of people gain a comparatively greater revenue benefit.  I am also saying that a focus on revenue also tends to ignore the costs involved in producing that revenue (such as transaction costs, and the lack of a competitive market). 

That is, the "benefits metric" being applied is flawed. 

BTW: This is not an argument against basic research, as that is still undertaken with a view to producing benefits, although they are further in the future.

Second: (funding research to benefit competitors)
We shouldn't fund research only to benefit our competitors.  However, I suspect the amount of research which has no benefit to Australia is rather small.  The question then becomes what is the comparative benefit, and if Australia receives comparatively less benefit than "competitors" is that a reason to not conduct the research.  I don't know the answer to that, but my inclination would be that it is not a reason to not conduct the research. 

The second half of the question is whether the research can be licensed on terms which don't give competitors an advantage. This is the real challenge for the future.  Current ways of thinking - royalties/sale as a product - will always be skewed against a small player like Australia.  We should therefore be trying to move the licensing model away from that into one more favourable to us. 

>> The best way to demonstrate value to is to be able to point to 
>> Australian businesses making money from the research.
> This ONLY makes sense once research has shown itself to be
> commercially useful, which is a bit of a Catch-22. Most research
> takes place long before that - so who funds it?

No, this is an argument about whether the benefits can be predicted, not whether they are expected.  Implicitly you are still supporting the argument that research is undertaken to provide benefits.  In other words - if you had a crystal ball and could tell that certain research would never ever benefit anyone (other than by keeping the scientists involved off the streets) would you still fund it?  


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