One of the objectives during the preparations for the 5th Framework Programme was to place Community research more clearly in the context of innovation. However, the Action Plan for Innovation23 puts the interrelation between research and innovation in a broader context, in which entrepreneurship and funding are equally important for promoting innovation in Europe. The second phase of implementation of the Action Plan started in 1998, bringing together the specific measures under the Innovation programme and action from other Community programmes and policies, including other areas of the Framework Programme.
- Gearing research more to innovation
In the 5th Framework Programme, the horizontal programme on "Promotion of innovation and encouragement of SME participation" coordinates and supports the innovation activities in the thematic programmes which, in turn, have each set up functions dealing with application of research results and innovation. In 1998 the Commission launched wide consultations on ways of creating an environment conducive to innovation in Europe. This produced specific proposals for regional, national and Community policy. These were discussed at the first European forum for innovative businesses in Vienna on 12 and 13 November 1998, in response to which the Commission proposed a new pilot scheme bringing together local/regional, national and Community levels.
- Setting up a legal, regulatory and financial framework conducive to innovation
In conjunction with the national patent offices and the members of the profession, the Commission continued the preparations for the introduction of a Community patent. A Commission communication on the subject was published in 1999.24 The European Patent Office opened the esp@cenet service on patent information on the Internet.25 On Community research, an IPR (intellectual property rights) help desk was also opened.26
As regards innovation financing, the Commission is preparing an action plan to follow up the communication on "Risk capital: a key to job creation in the European Union" submitted at the Council meeting on economic and financial affairs in April 1998. The I-TEC27 pilot project to help venture capital firms to invest in the start-up phases of innovatory projects has produced encouraging results. These moves form part of a comprehensive Community strategy involving not only the Innovation programme but also the European Investment Bank, the European Investment Fund and the Structural Funds.
The BEST28 Task Force also made further progress, culminating in the Commission proposals for action submitted at the Council meeting on industry in November 1998.
The first phase of the "Dashboard for innovation" project gathered detailed information on almost 200 national measures to foster innovation and started a comparative analysis. A restricted access Intranet service will give national officials access to all the information available and enable them to exchange experience. In addition, 30 projects were conducted in 1998 to promote organisation and management methods for innovation by SMEs. To back up these moves, tools were developed for training on best practices for industrial innovation, and, in the framework of enterprise policy, through launching studies on the access of SMEs to innovation, evaluation methods and SME competitiveness, and on networking of clusters of SMEs and technological centres of competence. In the research sector, in 1998 the Commission introduced training focusing on innovation management at its Joint Research Centre (JRC) in order to stimulate application of RTD results there.
- Fostering an innovation culture
The biggest challenge
this year is successful launching of the new Framework Programme,
from publication of the calls for proposals in March to signature
of the first contracts, scheduled in autumn 1999. The German Presidency,
followed by the Finnish, have both put implementation of the Framework
Programme at the top of their priorities in the research field,
but without neglecting preparation for the future. Accordingly,
at the Council meeting on research on 20 May the German Presidency
will start an in-depth debate on the future of European research.
23- COM(96) 589 final.
24- COM(1999)42, 5 February 1999.
27- Innovation and Technology Equity Capital.
28- Business Environment Simplification Task Force.