Guest Book review: Harnessing Public Research for Innovation in the 21st Century

Previous Guest Kat Rosie Burbidge, Intellectual Property Partner at Gunnercooke LLP and author of European Fashion Law, returns with a review of Harnessing Public Research for Innovation in the 21st Century An International Assessment of Knowledge Transfer Policies, edited by Anthony Arundel (UNU-MERIT, Maastricht University and University of Tasmania), Suma Athreye (Essex Business School, Southend Campus), and Sacha Wunsch-Vincent (World Intellectual Property Organization). Here is what Rosie has to say about the book:

It is a pleasure to review Harnessing Public Research for Innovation in the 21st Century, edited by Anthony Arundel, UNU-MERIT, Maastricht University and University of Tasmania, Suma Athreye, Essex Business School, London and Sacha Wunsch-Vincent, World Intellectual Property Organization. 

Public research and the important issue of how to foster “innovation” are popular concerns for governments and industry alike. This book enables a holistic overview of different innovation practices. By comparing different issues and strategies on an international basis, the common trends and best practices can be more readily identified and questions such as which subsidies produce the greatest economic value can be considered. 


The book is split into three sections. The first is an overview of some of the key issues to set the framework for discussion. These range from the evolving role of public R&D to measuring global patenting. The next section considers these issues in more detail in the context of the UK, Germany, Republic of Korea, Brazil, China and South Africa. The final section considers the way forward. This is where the practical considerations regarding the policies and practices for supporting successful knowledge transfer policies are set out into detail including some metrics for measuring success. 

Why look at this issue in such detail? As Athreye & Wunsch-Vincent put it, there are a few important lessons that can be drawn from high income countries’ approach to academic innovation. Their key insights can be summarised as: (1) “a diversity of legal and policy approaches persists” despite a “general trend toward institutional ownership”; (2) “the means to implement legislation... [and] available complementary policies to enhance the impact of public R&D and to promote academic entrepreneurship, vary widely”; and (3) “legal changes alone have not started or contributed to sustained patenting by public research organizations”.

However, as they also note, in the context of public research, it “may produce a lot of inventions, but no significant innovations”. This observation ties in with one common issue throughout the book, and with measuring innovation more generally, is that the focus is on the number and type of patent filings which can be a poor proxy for genuine innovation. That is not to say that this data and the associated analysis is not helpful but that it is much harder to get accurate and bias free information regarding other rights, particularly trade secrets which, by their nature, are not widely shared.  

This book is produced in collaboration with WIPO and is well worth a read by those in government, universities and other public bodies and the lawyers who serve them. 

ISBN: 9781108904230

Published by: Cambridge University Press

Format: Hardback

£85 or free on open access

Readers may also be interested to know the following from the book editors: The book has since been the subject of an international seminar now in covid context triggering an agreement among four partners for future work on knowledge transfer metrics and policies notably ICC, AUTM and LESI. Details here and here.

Guest Book review: Harnessing Public Research for Innovation in the 21st Century Guest Book review: Harnessing Public Research for Innovation in the 21st Century Reviewed by Hayleigh Bosher on Tuesday, August 03, 2021 Rating: 5

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