Moving Beyond R&D – New Zealand Herald

Research & development funding is not a magic bullet, say Associate Professor Suvi Nenonen and Professor Kaj Storbacka, from  the University of Auckland Business School’s Graduate School of Management, writing in the New Zealand Herald.

An excerpt (read in full here):

Illustration of a graph on a grid in the foreground with purple circles in the background.Research and development funding is not the economic elixir it used to be and New Zealand needs urgently to move beyond that thinking.

This country is struggling to turn filed patents into commercial successes but throwing more R&D money into the problem – or pigheadedly trying to commercialise products that lack a supporting ecosystem – will get us nowhere fast.

We’ve lived in this amazing country for three years, and it hasn’t taken us long to learn that alternative ‘national anthem’: ‘Our GDP is lagging behind the OECD average and so is our R&D expenditure’; ‘We are too reliant on the primary sector’; ‘Get off the grass…spend more on R&D and the GDP growth will follow’!

It’s a powerful rallying cry, but it may just lead New Zealand into throwing good money after bad. We aren’t questioning the accuracy of the national statistics but we argue that the story is more complex than we are taught to believe.

Let’s look at the facts. We are among the top countries in the world when it comes to filing patents: third or fourth, depending on whether you compare the number of patents to the country’s GDP or population size. So even with moderate R&D expenditure, New Zealand is punching above its weight in inventing things.

We also know that the path from R&D expenditure to GDP growth is not a straight one, and there are many crucially important intermediating factors that are conveniently left out of the public debate.

But it’s clear that what happens after we ‘invent’ something – turning those inventions into international commercial success stories – is the problem. And how would increasing R&D expenditure fix this? Do we really want to file more patents that are just gathering dust?

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