Interview with Professor Henry Chesbrough, Department of Information Systems Management, ESADE
Known worldwide as the father of open innovation, ESADE Professor Henry Chesbrough has published a report that sheds new light on the relationship between open innovation and public policies in Europe. The study, Open Innovation and Public Policy in Europe 1, makes various recommendations for fostering open innovation in Europe and improving public policies. Chesbrough, author of several books on open innovation and a leading voice in the field, discusses the conclusions of the report, which was officially presented at the European Commission's Innovation Convention, in Brussels.
- What led you to publish this report?
The book is a tribute to Alfons Sauquet, Dean of the ESADE Business School, and Jonathan Wareham, Vice-Dean of Research of ESADE Business School -they were responsible for putting Professor Wim Vanhaverbeke and myself in contact with the Science Business Innovation Board to collaborate on the publication of this report. As part of our research, Professor Vanhaverbeke and I interviewed a number of managers in European companies and asked them about their innovation processes, the role played by EU public policies to support them, and what issues were causing them difficulties.
- What was your goal?
To reveal new mechanisms and innovation policies that would help companies innovate more effectively. The report comes at a very good time because the European Union is now outlining the budget, covering the next seven years, for future innovation policies as part of the Horizon 2020 framework programme. Our study suggests how to optimise funding efforts and how to conduct research more effectively to improve efficiency and boost innovation.
- What are the main insights from the report?
One very important insight from the study is that as innovation becomes more open, we need to find ways to move people and knowledge from universities into industry. Some countries have policies that prohibit university faculty members from doing any consultancy work with companies. Our suggestion is to liberalise this policy and allow professors to spend up to 15 or 20% of their time on external activities, so that they can work more closely with the private sector and transfer the knowledge they are developing to industry. This would be a way to get more value out of the funding provided for early stage research.
- The report also urges a fresh look at how governments use their databases to propel open innovation
Another dimension for innovation in Europe is that governments collect a great deal of information through the business conducted with their citizens. All too often, this data is kept private. One way governments can stimulate more innovation in the services they provide to their citizens is by sharing more of this data openly, so that many individuals and small companies can come up with new ideas and services.
- Can you give an example?
The city of Boston, for example, is already publishing their road maintenance data and this has prompted a community response to the issue of road repair. Somebody has created an application that detects traffic flow, and when it slows down significantly it sends a signal to the road maintenance crew to go directly to that spot and see if something needs to be fixed there. At present, this process would take a long time without an application of this sort, but with this app. the maintenance crew can be there within an hour to take care of any problem there may be. This open data initiative is inspired by the wider notion of making data much more available to everyone, taken up by Boston City¿s government, and invites citizens and companies to build new services that can be helpful in different aspects of daily life.
- The report also explores the role that intellectual property plays on innovation
We found out that getting intellectual property protection was particularly hard for small and medium-sized companies because of the expensive procedures involved. This is an issue that should be tackled, because these companies are, in many ways, the sources of growth for innovation, jobs and new technologies. One of our recommendations in the report was to support the idea of a European-wide patent that would reduce the cost for businesses to get such forms of protection, which in turn would allow them to share and exchange licenses, ideas and technologies, while knowing that they have more protection for doing so.
- What other issues did you identify in the report?
Another concern that we identified is that many of the research funding programmes that the EU finances are awarded on criteria that do not favour the best research project, but which in fact favour those projects with the highest representation of EU-member countries. With this system, the funding gets spread too widely, resulting in not enough money being allocated to specific areas: If this were changed it would allow researchers to really gain the critical mass necessary to undertake effective research. Thus, our recommendation on this was to make these award programmes more competitive so that the best research proposals are funded, independently of the number of countries being represented.
1 Chesbrough, Henry; Vanhaverbeke, Wim; Bakici, Tuba & López Vega, Henry Nelson (2011). Open innovation and public policy in Europe. Edited by: ESADE & the Science Business Innovation Board AISBL. Science Business Publishing. 36 p.