R&D, innovation: Technology platforms drive innovation and demand for new technologies
Technology platforms – which coordinate research and innovation in various knowledge-intensive sectors in Europe – are an important socio-economic ‘comparative advantage’ for the Union and can help drive demand for new technologies, according to Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik.
Technology platforms were first launched in 2003, when the European Council’s Spring Summit asked the Commission to “create European technology platforms … to strengthen the European Research and Innovation Area”. Three years on, there are nearly 30 such platforms in various important technological fields, such as plant genomics, food and drink, nanotechnology, forestry, and more.
“Technology platforms are one of the important comparative advantages we have at our disposal, to make the future of Europe happen in the way we want it,” Science and Research Commissioner Janez Potocnik told the Austrian Presidency Conference on European Technology Platforms, which took place in Vienna on 4 May. “Let’s not miss this opportunity. Let’s explore how we can work together to turn knowledge into growth and create an innovative Europe.”
Potocnik outlined three factors behind the growing success of technology platforms. Firstly, they unite all stakeholders. Secondly, industry takes the lead role. Thirdly, they play the “European game”. “They span bridges between industry, the scientific community, the financial world, regulators and end-users with clear, win-win goals in mind for all across Europe.”
According to the Commission, technology platforms provide a framework for stakeholders, led by industry, to define research and development priorities, timeframes and action plans in a number of technological fields with important socio-economic and environmental impacts. They also play a key role in ensuring an adequate focus of research funding on areas with a high degree of industrial relevance.
“There is a striking resemblance between conducting a Mozart symphony and operating a technology platform,” Potocnik mused on the occasion of the great Austrian composer’s 250th birthday. “It requires a high degree of skilled orchestration to get all the different players performing in harmony.”
Rooted in knowledge
Most technology platform have formulated their Strategic Research Agendas, which plot a course for the medium to long-term for a particular sector (see article on ‘Food for life’ SRA). These SRAs have been instrumental in helping the EU set the priorities for its Seventh Framework Programme for Research (FP7), which has a budget of nearly €55 billion and will run between 2007 and 2013.
“Technology platforms have already played a valuable role in helping to ensure that the priorities of the Framework Programme are tailored to be better able to meet industry’s priorities,” Potocnik explained. “As platforms move from definition to implementation, they would be ill-advised to look only at the Framework Programme. It is important that they exploit the full range of funding sources available – European and national, public and private,” he cautioned.
But the role of technology platforms is not just limited to the supply side of the equation, he posited. Through their SRA’s, technology platforms could help stimulate demand-driven technological innovation, he argued. For instance, in many countries, governments are among the biggest purchasers. A particular platform could convince public procurers to commit to purchasing certain cutting edge technologies that are in the public good, such as environmentally friendly hydrogen buses, or biodegradable materials.
Platforms of relevance to the life science and biotechnology sectors, include ‘Plants for the future’, ‘Food for life’, ‘Sustainable chemistry’, ‘Forestry’, ‘Innovative medicines’, ‘Farm animal breeding and global animal health’.