3 August 2009
Annalee Saxenian, an astute observer and analyst of the regional advantage of Silicon Valley, observes in her book, The New Argonauts, that the Valley has gained as its home-grown entrepreneurs have built overseas businesses in China, India and elsewhere. She notes: “By promoting the development of local capabilities in Tel Aviv, Hsinchu, Shanghai, Bangalore, and other technology clusters while also collaborating with entrepreneurs and investors in Silicon Valley, the New Argonauts have initiated a process of reciprocal regional transformation that is shifting the global balance of economic and technological resources. Silicon Valley, once the uncontested technology leader, is now integrated into a dynamic network of specialised and complementary regional economies.” [page 325, The New Argonauts, Harvard, 2006]
The point here is that building regional economies is now as much about local capabilities as integration with other centres of innovation and development. It is no longer enough to be good enough for the home crowd.
Flying in the face of this is the fear over the Community Patent. In the 25 July edition of The Economist [page 67] is a telling commentary. The Economist notes: “Less innovative countries are unlikely to back a strong European patent, since their governments fear that companies which rely on imitation would lose market share to more inventive foreigners. National patent offices do not want to give up power.”
The point here is that parochial thinking such as this will only lead these economies down the path toward mediocrity. It is a separate question whether there is any power in a national patent office of a failing innovator.
My concern is that the national governments involved will fail to grasp the deep underlying power of Saxenian’s logic in defining the behaviour of innovation systems across the world. These fearful nations will only in the end hasten their slide into mediocrity and economic irrelevance.
It would be better to embrace the wider agenda and understand that Europe’s regional innovation powerbase lies in its international linkages. The ability of regional innovation centres to act as ‘breeder sites’ for innovation elsewhere leads to greater, not less economic and development gain.
Having a European Community Patent is just one sensible step to creating not just a level playing field, but one which will ultimately reward the dynamic opportunities on offer. Those who want world-class innovation centres, driving economic growth, will seek not just the Community Patent, but also to export themselves through powerful relationships in the world stage.