Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Let’s Get Positive about Innovation

By Alan Finkel

Recognition and acceptance that we will fail from time to time is a necessary part of belief that we can succeed.

Dr Alan Finkel AM FTSE is Chancellor of Monash University, President-elect of ATSE, former CTO of Better Place Australia and Chairman of the Australian Centre of Excellence for All-Sky Astrophysics. For 20 years Dr Finkel ran Axon Instruments, an American company that made electronic instruments used by pharmaceutical companies. He established the Australian Course in Advanced Neuroscience to provide advanced training to young scientists and the STELR secondary school science program, administered by ATSE, which is currently running in nearly 300 secondary schools around Australia.

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Research and innovation – converting money into knowledge and then knowledge into money – is a virtuous circle that we aspire to in Australia, but the process often ends up as a virtuous arc with a gap at the innovation step.

Research and innovation are tightly coupled. If we concentrate just on one or the other we won’t enjoy the best possible outcomes for the country.

Australia has a mixed scorecard in this two-step process. Using the per capita rate of published scientific papers as a metric, in scientific research Australian researchers are doing superbly well, publishing at about twice the rate of the OECD average. However, if you compare the normalised number of triadic patents (those granted for the same invention in the United States, Europe and Japan), which is often used as a measure of innovation, Australia holds about one-third of the OECD average.

We’re twice the average on research but one-third the average on triadic patents. That’s a factor of six worse on innovation compared to discovery, and it is something we have to address.

There are two key factors that drive the innovation process: challenges and facilitation. If you set a challenge for a group of developers – they might be engineers or business process people – they will respond to that challenge. Setting the challenge is the most important step to driving innovation, and...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.