OTA Contributes to Technology Policy Dialogue

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Publication date: 
15 November 1995
Number: 
161

"Successful innovation and commercialization depend on far more
than a strong science and technology base."  --- OTA report

The debate between Republicans and Democrats over the federal
government's technology policies has spawned a number of recent
reports.  OTA explores the issue in a 96-page paper entitled
"Innovation and Commercialization of Emerging Technologies,"
completed about the time OTA was shut down in September.  While it
does not advocate any specific technology programs, the paper
contributes to the dialogue by "highlighting the growing importance
of factors other than basic research" that go into achieving the
commercial success of a product.  It contends that the "linear
model" used in the past to dictate government policy is inadequate,
and that any new model "must recognize the need for new forms of
interaction among industry, government and universities..."

Since World War II, the U.S. government's traditional role in
technology development has been to fund basic research, and to
provide an environment conducive to technological innovation, based
upon tax, antitrust, patent and intellectual property policies.
This strategy was based on the "linear model" of innovation, which
assumed a direct sequence from funding for basic science to
commercialization of technology.  However, the paper finds that in
the past two decades, increased competition from other nations has
demonstrated that U.S. firms "cannot rely on scientific leadership
alone to maintain their competitive advantage;" other countries
have been able to capitalize on basic research performed in the
U.S. and bring a product to market sooner.  This leads OTA to argue
that the linear model results from "an incomplete understanding of
the ways in which firms develop and market new products." 

The report looks at a multitude of factors which influence
technological innovation and commercial success.  Innovation is
driven by many forces other than new science, including using
existing technologies in new ways, exploiting known science in new
ways, and applying existing products or processes to new market
needs.  OTA also points out that products and industries go through
a maturation process; initial advances based upon new science give
way to incremental improvements and then product maturity before a
new discovery might start the whole process over again.  Successful
commercialization of an innovation may depend on the nature of
potential markets, competition from other technologies, cost,
design, or the availability of financing.

"[G]overnment may have a valuable role to play in helping firms
overcome the barriers they face in bringing new technologies to
market," OTA says.  That role may vary from industry to industry:
"As the innovation process itself differs across industries," the
paper states, "so do the barriers to successful innovation and
commercialization, and so, too, does the proper role for
government....  Changes in the competitive environment
affect...industries differently, requiring different responses from
government."  OTA concludes that "new forms of cooperation will
need to be developed and tested."

The OTA report, OTA-BP-ITC-165, can be purchase from the Government
Printing Office at (202) 512-1800; fax: (202) 512-2250.

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