Accelerating Innovation

europe-innova-2.pngI am at the Europe Innova conference in Lyon. In the Opening Session, one of the speakers, Luc Rousseau, Head of the General Directorate of Enterprises, who spoke on behalf of the French Presidency stressed, among others, how important innovation and entrepreneurship was to his country. He highlighted, in particular, the importance of eco-innovation, which is also a priority of the forthcoming DG Enterprise calls to be published in the next days. I asked myself, why with all this political rhetoric and attention on climate change and the importance of environmental technologies, did France join Germany in trying to delay and water down new CO2 reductions for cars, proposed to help Europe meet its 2020 goals (see this article), with other countries, most notably, Italy and Poland, following in their footsteps and trying to torpedo other much needed emission cuts (see this article).

The car industry is perhaps a classical example where we see mostly manufacturer generated innovation, not user generated innovation, which would lead to completely different and maybe more environmentally friendly cars. Open Innovation was the topic of the next speaker, Eric von Hippel, from the Sloan School of Management at the MIT. He said the shift from closed, manufactured-centred innovation to open, collaborative and user-centred innovation was the “largest paradigm shift in innovation since the industrial revolution”.

While manufacturers innovate if they see a clear market opportunity, users innovate based on their needs, so you get a lot of innovation you would not get from manufacturer led efforts. Users are now more and more collaborating over the Internet and driving product design and innovation. Clever companies integrate user-innovation into their product development by offering web-based platforms for users to design their own prototypes. The companies can then produce and market these products, if other users like that. This is already happening. As an example Hippel quoted Lego, the Danish toy producer.

User innovation depends on low networking and transaction costs such as through open standards. The difficulty for user innovation was that the present Intellectual Property and copyright legislation favours manufacturers. Users put together existing stuff to create new products with new functions. That is however, often not compatible with present IPR law. Open innovation would happen anywhere, because that is where the market was going, but policy should make sure a more levelled playing field as concerns IPR, to that the “war of old vs. new” can be played out on the basis of economic merits. Sectors like the construction sector have huge potential for user-centered innovation. His points were illustrated by two examples from the architecture/design field (BIM – Building Information Modelling), where open standards and collaborative innovation were put to impressive use.

Many of the speakers at the plenary session and the following roundtable referred to the current financial and economic crisis. A general concern that cash flow problems and lack of credit and investment capital could have a negative effect on innovation, was balanced by an understanding of the crisis as an opportunity. Francoise de Bail, Vice-DG of DG Enterprise, underlined that as a result of the crisis, support to science, research and innovation was getting even more important and was key in getting the European economy back on track. She quoted Paul Krugmann, the nobel prize winner, who said the real economy was primarily anchored in regional hotspots. She also said, she was not sure whether the existing policies are sufficient. Jean-Noel Durvy, Director for Innovation Policy, mentioned that there were doubts about the effectiveness of present innovation support services, which is why DG Enterprise had commissioned a study, which will be presented in February/March and followed by a public consultation.

This positive spirit was demonstrated during an awards ceremony at Lyon City Hall, for this year’s best network, tool and cluster manager. Find more info on the Europe Innovawebsite.

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