CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It has been said there is nothing new under the sun. This often seems true when working with advanced technology. A problem is recognized, a creative solution is discovered, and then the same concept can be found in many archival publications.
This is also true for patent art where a uniquely brilliant insight is soon found covered by one or more patents, either domestic or foreign.
This, on the surface, appears to validate the adage and provide another reason for companies not to focus on innovation. Innovation can be expensive.
The commercial value comes once the idea is taken to market, the other end of the process, which is often the stumbling block. It is easy to focus on what has worked in the past, and often uncomfortable to consider what might work better in the future. What can then follow is a lack of focus on innovation and a move to downsize or sometimes eliminate research-and-development centers; a trend that could become disastrous if followed nationwide.
It turns out that reality doesn't support the saying. Even with the millions of existing patents worldwide, the growth rate of patent art continues to rise. Plus, while it is more expensive today to support research and development and to then publish the same, the number of published referred articles worldwide is also on the rise. There is a continuing growth in new art, admittedly small in percentage to the total in the open literature, but sufficient to drive technology forward.
So, where is the contradiction? It is clear that several companies have cut back their in-house R&D efforts, but some of that work has since been sent out to contract development centers or university-based research centers. Shopping around for better and more efficient solutions by outsourcing or simply releasing undeveloped ideas and technologies to those with specialized talents is often more cost effective. Plus, it eliminates the need to sustain some bricks and mortar. Focusing on the new ideas while letting others perform the development processes can make good business sense especially for those companies that specialize in production and not product development.
This focus on specialization, knowing what you are good at and staying that course, plus the release of new technology not in your wheelhouse, has created a growth spike in start-ups. This is particularly the case in the advanced technology fields, which will in the future bolster the nation's overall R&D efforts, not to mention the learning curve advances it provides to the next-generation work force.