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Correction to course

Debate sponsored by the Uniemp Institute highlights central role of companies in the generation of new technologies

The debate on policies for stimulating innovation in the country converged towards a consensus: that companies have a central role in the generation of new technologies. Up until the end of the 90’s, the policies for science and technology regarded the university and the research institutes are centers generating the innovation to be transferred to companies. This model has produced rare positive results, as in the case of the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), which developed and passed on to Telebrás and Xtal the optical fiber technology. For the great majority of the productive sectors, though, this policy has been translated into a mistake that has cost the country dear: the low investment by companies in research and development (R&D) has jeopardized the competitiveness of the national product, even though academic research has been getting an impulse.

“The error in the Brazilian strategy was to ignore the need for companies to have a central role in innovation”, says Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, the rector of Unicamp, underlining that the contribution of the university is essential in the education of personnel and in the advance of fundamental knowledge, “without which it is impossible to create innovation”.

Displaced focus
The consensus about the leading role of companies in the development of new technologies became clear in the seminar sponsored by the Uniemp Institute “Permanent forum for university/company relations”, on September 2, which brought together businessmen, researchers, specialists and representatives of the science and technology sectors of the federal and state governments. And it was consolidated in the face of the pressure for competitiveness called for by the increase of exports, in a scenario of economic stability and the speeding up of development. During the seminar, held in São Paulo, the Uniemp Innovation magazine was launched, bringing together a collection of articles by businessmen, journalists and specialists on the subject.

The change in the focus of innovation – from the university to the company – began in 1999, gained force in 2001, at the 1st National Science and Technology Conference, and is promising to materialize with the Law on Innovation, which is waiting to be voted in the Senate. The project creates facilities for hiring researchers, makes the licensing of products nimbler, and makes the draconian Law on Tenders (No. 8666) more flexible, to allow the State to take on the role of a strategic for companies, with the commissioning of technologies.

Having corrected the course, there is still an enormous backwardness to overcome, notes the rector of  Unicamp, who for ten years has been accompanying the evolution of the country’s indicators for innovation. He cites as an example that fewer than 29,000 Brazilian scientists were working in companies in 2001. In Korea, in the same period, this figure amounted to 94,000, and in the United States it exceeded 800,000. The indicators for intellectual property reflect the absence of researchers from the companies and the low investment in R&D: 120 patents deposited by Brazilian companies, against 3,500 by Korean companies. “Between 1990 and 2001, the champions in patent deposits in the country were Petrobras and Unicamp, which is the largest patenter from São Paulo. In the United States, the universities only appear after the 22nd place in the ranking of patents”, stressed Brito.

Eager to recover the lost time, the businessmen are depositing an expectation in the approval of the Law on Innovation, provided that it makes it possible to unleash official policies for encouraging investments in research. They regard the lack of public support as one of the main factors inhibiting the expansion of R&D in companies, albeit not the only one: in this period, which began with the opening up of the economy in 1991, companies postponed investments to struggle for their survival, as Hermann Wever explained; he presides the Board of Directors at Siemens and is a member of FAPESP’s Board of Trustees. “In the 90’s, the scientific area made progress, but innovation did not keep pace, and the responsibility remained in the sector”, he recognized.

There were no lack of arguments for the plea for support from the government: small companies do not generate cash for R&D, and the large and medium ones have average sales below US$ 100 million, an amount regarded by specialists as a parameter for investments in innovation, according to Walter Cirillo, the president of Rhodia and of Uniemp. “Amongst the 500 largest national companies classified by the Exame magazine, less than 300 have sales of this scale”, he said. The businessmen’s expectation is for government incentives to be translated into technological commissioning policies, tax exemptions, and a reinforcement for research.

This modality of public incentives was responsible for the spectacular technological advance of countries like the United States. There, of the US$ 65 billion invested annually in R&D, US$ 25 billion goes to companies in the form of technological orders, Brito recalls. “This amount represents 15% of the total spending done by companies on R&D”, he explained. In the United Kingdom, the State invests US$ 1.5 billion in business research and development, or 9% of the total spent by companies with innovations. In France, the government brings in US$ 1.6 billion, 11% of the company’s budget for new technologies; and in Germany, the figure comes to US$ 2 billion, or 9% of business spending.

New technologies
In Brazil, the Law on Innovation will represent a first step in the direction of the development of new technologies, admitted the participants in Uniemp’s seminar. Once approved by the Congress, the law will indicate the general principles of the national policy for innovation. But it is in its later regulation that the measures of incentive that the federal government intends to adopt to stimulate the generation of new technologies in the country will actually be defined. “The ideal thing would be for the law to go for the presidential sanction together with the decree with the regulations, for the new rules to be able to come into force in 2005”, Ozires Silva, president of the biotechnology company Pelenova and a member of the National Science and Technology Council.

Some fear that the measures provided for in the new legislation may not be sufficient. Flávio Grynzpan, director of the competitiveness department of the Federation of Industries of the State of São Paulo (Fiesp), thinks that Brazilian companies have to have isonomy on the international plane. “Our credit is more expensive and the interest rates are higher”, he explained. One way out would be to adopt the incentive policies provided for in an agreement of the World Trade Organization (WTO), which permit subsidizing industrial research and development activities, provided they do not exceed 75% of the cost of the project.

Amongst the businessmen, optimism prevails. Wever believes that the federal government’s industrial policy and the policy on foreign trade is “a favorable backcloth for innovation”. “The choice of the four priority sectors (semiconductors, drugs, software and capital goods) could have been a happier one. Biotechnology was missing (please see article on page 26). But, for the first time, things may happen. It is impossible to require the companies to invest in projects of long duration and risk. There is no structure in the productive sector”, recognized Francelino Grando, the secretary for Information Technology and Technological Policy of the Ministry of Science and Technology, beckoning with the government’s willingness to give incentives.

He warned, though, of the need to create an innovation culture amongst the companies. “The company has to be convinced of the strategic importance of what it does. And it won’t be by putting a doctor in each industrial concern and a scientist in each baker’s shop.” He made it clear that the definition of the government’s action lies in the cluster policy, that is, local productive arrangements, to foster synergy between economic agents, with the support of government development agencies.

São Paulo government is also betting on the cluster model to boost new technologies. “But the lack of resources and venture partners has to be overcome”, claimed Fernando Dias Menezes de Almeida, the assistant secretary for Science, Technology, Economic Development and Tourism. And he revealed that the State is studying the creation of a fund to reduce the costs of the investments in R&D for companies. “The objective is to make the relationship between companies and the research system more dynamic.” 

More room for technology

FAPESP is going to coordinate the studies for the implantation of four technology parks in the state of São Paulo. The funds for the project, in the amount of R$ 2.5 million, will be passed on by the Secretariat for Science, Technology, Economic Development and Tourism by means of an agreement to be signed in the next few days. “FAPESP already does this connection between research laboratories and factories, and between the academic world and companies”, explained Governor Geraldo Alckmin. He announced the government’s decision to create the technology parks on September 29, during the graduation ceremony for 60 businessmen who took part in the qualification course of the Small Business Innovation Research Program (PIPE), at the Foundation’s headquarters.

On the same subject, the businessmen will be presenting their business plans to the Financier of Studies and Projects (Finep), which, in São Paulo, will support 40 projects with funds from the Research in Companies Support Program (Pappe). The technology parks will be distributed in four municipalities and will follow “regional vocations”, as the governor explained. The first, in Greater São Paulo, will be implanted in partnership with the University of São Paulo (USP), the Technological Researches Institute (IPT) and the Institute of Nuclear Energy and Research (Ipen), and will have as its focus nanobiotechnology.

The second, in Campinas, will enjoy a partnership with the State University of Campinas (Unicamp), and will concentrate companies from the area of information technology. The third, in São José dos Campos, with a partnership with the Technological Aeronautics Institute (ITA) and from the Aerospace Technical Center (CTA), will be aimed at the aerospace industry; and the fourth, in São Carlos, also in partnership with USP, will bring together biotechnology companies.

“Our objective is to attract big companies”, claimed the secretary for Science and Technology, João Carlos de Souza Meirelles. The expectation is that, besides concentrating the production of technology companies, the parks will induce a “new process of urban valuation”, according to the secretary. The four areas have now been identified, though not yet defined. “This is an engineering that involves technical, scientific and business modeling.”The viability studies, which will be coordinated by João Steiner, the director of the Advanced Studies Institute at USP, should be concluded in 2005. “The management of the project will be handled in the way of a FAPESP project”, details Carlos Vogt, the Foundation’s president.