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What role do governments play in innovation?

We often hear that governments have little role in innovation, but is that the case?

The life sciences report published by Marks & Clerk last month reveals that many of the most cutting edge advances in genome research are being made as the result of public funding in the sector.

We wrote about the report when it was launched at the BIO convention in San Diego, but we focused on the geographical split in patenting in the genome sector. But another interesting aspect of Marks & Clerk’s research is the public/private split it reveals, and the role of government funding in early stage research.

In particular, the patent application figures for sequencing, personalised medicine and synthetic biology reveal much about the state of the market in each field.

As partner Gareth Williams explains, the prevalence of private companies filing patents for sequencing technology shows a maturity in the market. In contrast, he says that “the high number of filings by public bodies in personalised medicine and particularly in synthetic biology depicts two emerging technologies, with private companies on the whole showing less confidence.”


I have just been reading the Entrepreneurial State by economist Mariana Mazzucato who writes persuasively about how governments in rich countries have played a crucial role in innovation. They have done so not just by responding to perceived market failures but by actually creating markets by making investments where the risks involved are just too daunting for the private sector to take on. Once that’s done, the private sector can move in and turn innovation into marketable products.

Marks & Clerk’s research seems to support her views. Of course there’s more to innovation than throwing public money at it (or, as the report’s authors put it, “political engagement in itself is not enough to create an industry”). But in an era where many people regard the state as a brake on, if not an outright impediment to, innovation and entrepreneurialism, it is useful to be reminded why that’s not the full picture.

more from across site and ros bottom lb

More from across our site

We provide a rundown of Managing IP’s news and analysis coverage from the week, and review what’s been happening elsewhere in IP
The EUIPO management board must provide the Council of the EU with a performance assessment before it can remove the executive director
The European Commission confirmed that plans for a unitary SPC will be published in April alongside reforms to the SEP system
The court held that SEP implementers could be injuncted or directed to pay royalties before trial if they are deemed to be unwilling licensees
Patentees should feel cautious optimism over the EPO Enlarged Board of Appeal’s decision in G2/21, say European patent attorneys
Significant changes to the standard of law are unlikely, say sources, who note that some justices seemed sceptical that the parties disagreed on the legal standard
Sources say the High Court of Australia’s ruling that reputation is immaterial in trademark infringement cases could stop famous brands from muscling out smaller players
Three Republican and two Democratic Congress members have claimed that patent thickets hinder access to affordable medicine
Charles Hoskin of Singaporean e-commerce platform Shopee, who made the jump from a luxury brand, says honest conversations and collaborations are key to combatting counterfeiting
Adam Williams speaks to Managing IP about the legacy of Brexit and why IP has sometimes got ‘lost in the noise’ at Westminster