More than 1,200 million euros in 2023 so that research leaves the laboratories and reaches the streets. The Council of Ministers has approved this Tuesday the Transfer and Collaboration Plan with which it intends to enter the phase of the scientific process that is perhaps weakest in Spain: the transfer of knowledge, the transition from the idea to the product.
The problem of Spanish R&D: the State finances research, but patents remain in private hands
The plan is articulated around three axes: the transfer of knowledge itself, public-private collaboration for innovation and the training and development of the research ecosystem. It is about reaching “from research centers to innovative solutions”, said the Minister of Science Diana Morant. “Convert the excellent knowledge that is generated into those solutions.”
The problem is more than detected. Spain does good research in the early stages, scientists have good ideas, but then they don’t end up being transferred to society. “We cannot waste the findings. Science must contribute to the well-being of society”, concluded the minister.
This idea is better understood when two indicators are compared: our country is 11th in the world in number of scientific articles produced (12th if their quality is weighted), but 29th in the innovation ranking. “There is an imbalance, and to correct it it is important that knowledge be transferred to society,” explain sources from the Ministry of Science.
There is another particular circumstance in Spain that does not add up to this situation either, the experts add: Spanish companies do much less research than those of other countries. Once again, translating the statement into figures: Spanish companies spend on research, comparatively, half that of French companies or a third of German companies, for example. Investment in business R&D in Spain is around 0.75% of GDP, while in Germany it is over 2% and in France it is close to 1.5%, a figure that also corresponds to the European average. Only 38% of national researchers work privately, compared to an average of 60%, according to a recent study by the La Caixa Foundation.
Ciencia defines it this way: “Spanish companies have little capacity to absorb and apply a good part of the knowledge generated by scientific institutions (…) which is largely explained by characteristics of the Spanish productive fabric such as the predominance of small and medium-sized companies (SMEs) in sectors that are not intensive in knowledge and the low investment of Spanish companies in R&D (…). Additionally, the incentive system in force for decades in the public research sector has led research staff to focus excessively on meeting formal knowledge generation criteria, mainly through objectives quantified in number and impact of indexed scientific publications” .
Three axes, two phases
Having located the problem, the Ministry of Science wants to try to improve the situation with this Transfer Plan, which will be articulated around three axes and will have two execution phases.
The first axis focuses on the transfer of knowledge generated in the public research system to companies, the public sector and society, through different channels such as the creation of new companies, patent licences, the dissemination of publications or scientific advice, as explained by the Ministry.
Within this line falls, for example, the public-private commercial company with which the Government intends to tie up patents that are generated from public research but which, by not being developed, end up bought by foreign companies. These companies turn these fledgling ideas into products, drugs, or services (it happens a lot in the biomedical industry) for which they then charge large amounts of money to the government, which pays twice for the same thing.
There are also measures to improve entrepreneurship based on science and technology, promote open science (expand access to knowledge) and scientific advice to the public sector, such as the creation of Office C (for Science) of Congress, an initiative by in which various scientists advise parliamentarians and prepare reports on issues of interest.
Improve public-private collaboration
The second axis includes measures to promote the collaboration of companies with universities, other higher education centers and public research centers during the knowledge generation phase, not only through specific collaboration projects for innovation, but also through new, more ambitious models of public-private partnerships, as well as through the mobility of research staff and citizen science.
Almost half of the 1,200 million euros already budgeted for this plan in 2023 will be allocated to one of the measures of this axis, the promotion of public financing of public-private collaborative projects with a vocation of permanence. Different research calls are framed within this framework, such as the Science and Research Missions Program for industrial research projects, the Cervera Transfer R&D Projects for collaboration between companies and technology centers, among others.
“The Plan intends to influence this type of joint calls between R&D&I funding agencies, also incorporating the State Research Agency (AEI), with a new funding model for transfer missions to address strategic missions” , they explain from the Ministry.
The third line of action of the Plan aims to improve the training of research, technical and management personnel in relation to the valorization of knowledge, as well as to promote connections in the ecosystem, paying special attention to the role of technology centers, knowledge transfer offices, knowledge, and other intermediate agents and platforms that help the interaction of the actors in the innovation system.
This axis is the most transversal of the three because it will affect both the transfer and public-private collaboration, according to the ministry. It includes measures such as the creation of a six-year transfer period (an economic reward for researchers every six years based on their ability to transfer knowledge to companies or society) as a motivating element for professionals.