Archive for the ‘until 2010’ Category

EFP Brief No. 212: Tech Mining

Tuesday, May 1st, 2012

The main purpose of the exercise is the development of new methods to discover patterns that new technologies follow and the opportunities they offer for innovation. This brief attempts to foster a new understanding of the mechanisms generating innovations. It presents a methodology to identify future technology opportunities based on text mining of scientific and technological databases. Assisting priority or agenda setting, the method could be useful for technology managers and corporate decision-makers in planning and allocating R&D resources.

New Methods to Anticipate Opportunities around Technologies

The analysis of new technologies has been of interest for many years. The increase in disruptive innovations and scientific research in recent years is driving institutions and also companies to develop methodologies for identifying technologies of the future. However, it is necessary to develop methods suitable for discovering the patterns according to which these technologies are likely to evolve. This will make it possible to convert them into opportunities for innovation as an essential prerequisite for maintaining competitiveness in the long-term.

Scientific and specifically patents databases are generally regarded as precursors of future or ongoing technological developments. Therefore, the analysis of such databases should enable identifying certain technology gaps that potentially could be transformed into opportunities.

Against this background, the project “How to anticipate opportunities around technologies” moves towards understanding the mechanisms generating innovations.

This exercise was designed and launched in light of the need to foster and accelerate scientific and technological innovation. Scientific publications and patent records are analysed as the empirical basis of the study. Experts are then asked to comment on the results of the analysis. The methodology applied to monitor new technologies uses the tech-mining approach and a combination of quantitative analysis and expert knowledge.

We will demonstrate how this instrument allows anticipating opportunities around technologies drawing on examples from two different industrial sectors. The methodology has been developed working with data from two different technological fields in order to compare and validate results. The two technology fields are waste recycling and “non-woven” textiles and their applications.

The project is running from 2010 until the end of 2012. The application to the waste recycling sector is financed through the SAIOTEK programme of the Basque Ministry of Industry, Trade and Tourism.

Quantitative Databases and Qualitative Knowledge

The exercise deals with the identification of opportunities based on scientific articles and patent information, using quantitative methods to process the information and expert knowledge for assessing it. The main goal is to identify the most important factors influencing the development of a new technology and to understand the mechanisms generating innovation.

The project team is comprised of researchers from the Industrial Engineering and Management Departments of the two technical universities University of the Basque Country and The University of Valencia and the R&D centre TECNALIA. The collaborating R&D centre has been granted the right to make first use of this research.  

Tapping into the Scientific Knowledge Base

The exercise is divided into two phases. In Phase I, the technologies were defined in order to analyse the scientific knowledge in the respective technology field and outline the technology landscape using the knowledge contained in articles and patents databases. We applied the tech-mining approach in the first step, then used a cross-correlation matrix and finally performed principal component analyses (PCA). This resulted in visualisations of the technology sectors where it is possible to determine gaps around technologies. Figure 1 shows the characteristics of the scientific information analysed for the waste recycling sector.

Assessing Emerging Technologies

In Phase II, we will use qualitative techniques in order to assess the potential for the emerging technology gaps found. These interim results will be discussed with the experts (“bottom up”) to identify potential opportunities. The R&D centre will contribute upon request. They will play a key role particularly in identifying opportunities in the last phase. Previous works in this field were considered as well (see references).

The Tech-mining Methodology

The foresight method developed in this analysis is innovative because it combines qualitative knowledge and quantitative data allowing the conclusions from the individual analysis to converge into a variety of industrial scenarios. Figure 2 shows an outline of the methodology. It retrieves and downloads the information on these two sectors using the Derwent Patents and Environmental Abstracts databases. The downloaded information is analysed using text mining techniques.

In recent years, text mining has been an expanding area. The introduction of natural language techniques that use semantic algorithms combined with the most advanced statistical techniques, such as multivariate analysis or cluster analysis, have become powerful tools for discovering and visualising the knowledge contained in scientific literature.

Identifying Innovative Investment Opportunities

Phase I of the project has been completed; the major socio-economic trends have been identified and the results disseminated as a paper to the international community exemplifying the analysis for the waste recycling sector. At this point in the project, the main findings, for instance on new technologies in waste recycling, can already be utilised by innovative companies.

One of the analyses was to determine the year in which the descriptor appeared for the first time (see Figure 3). The results allowed us to assess the new terms, such as “detritivores” or “allelopathy” in 2009, which belong to the biotechnological field. These terms, which we call weak signals, only appear once or twice.

Biotechnological terms surfaced as we mined titles and terms in abstract in databases for 2010. These particular trends are also recognisable within the International Patent Classification IPCs for this period.

We are working on creating multiple technological maps. For example, there have been several analyses of the patent applications downloaded from the Derwent database. Figure 3 shows a result obtained after the cross-correlation of the individuals (patents) in a two dimensional space according to similarity of the International Patent Classification limited to four digits, ergo according to their technological contents. IPC is used to assign them to a similar technology group. Then we used the maps to identify patent clusters and areas where patents are lacking. The green ellipses drawn in Figure 3 represent the gaps where there are no patents.

In a further step, we screened and investigated the patents adjacent to each gap to determine the meaning of the patent gaps. The objective was to analyse the emergence of each gap and evaluate certain indicators that we expected to tell us whether the gap represents a technologically valuable area or not.

Qualitative indicators were defined such that the density of the gap measures the average number of claim items of adjacent patents and the half-life of the patents in the vicinity of the gap while allowing to evaluate the documents on patents on the gap borders in terms of how they relate to the most up-to-date keywords.

In order to establish a methodology to analyse the emerging technologies, we determined the year when the keywords, i.e. the descriptor, appeared for first time, as mentioned above. It is possible to classify these keywords into two types: keywords of emerging or declining frequency. By comparing, we can contrast the number of keywords by years between the different gaps. In essence, this procedure allowed us to measure emerging technologies through the keywords found in the patents surrounding the gap.

In the field of non-wovens, the tech-mining methodology allowed us to identify several emerging technology trends, among others the increasing use of nanotechnologies in the patented inventions.

During Phase II, we will validate the methodology. An advance in research requires the participation of experts in the field of waste recycling and non-woven textiles who can assess the articles in terms of newly found references. The opinion of the experts about the potential impact of newly identified technologies will allow us to determine the most innovative areas of work.

Bio- and Nanotechnology Innovations for Waste Recycling and Non-woven Sectors

The main contribution of this study to research policy is that it provides a methodology to identify new and emerging technologies leading to innovations. An institutional policy encouraging the tendencies identified should be able to increase regional competitiveness.

Our analyses support decision-making through understanding how innovations are generated, enabling decision-makers to anticipate and address the challenges identified and the emerging weak signals. Furthermore, once the project is completed, we will have applied our method to two practical cases from the waste recycling and non-woven sectors. With these examples, we want to demonstrate how the methodology suggested can be applied to anticipate opportunities.

The method could be particularly useful for technology managers and corporate decision-makers in order to plan and allocate R&D resources. Governments and regional development agencies could also use it to improve innovation policies in terms of planning and decision-making.

However, in many cases, new technologies are a necessary but not a sufficient condition for successful innovations. A wide range of non-technical factors are relevant as well (demand, regulations etc.). For successful implementation, it will be necessary to identify the innovation pathways.

We believe that in a context of increasing uncertainty and financial constraints, these results show that foresight methodologies such as tech-mining offer a positive return on investment for policy and decision-makers.

Authors: Rosa Mª Rio-Belver1     rosamaria.rio@ehu.es

Ernesto Cilleruelo2       ernesto.cilleruelo@ehu.es

Fernando Palop3          fpalop@ingenio.upv.es

Sponsors: Departamento de Industria, Innovación, comercio y turismo – Basque Government – Programa SAIOTEK
Type: Sectoral forward looking analysis
Organizer: 1University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU, C/ Nieves Cano 12, SP-01006 Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

2University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU, Almed. Urquijo s/n, SP-48030 Bilbao, Spain

3Universidad Politécnica de Valencia, Camino de Vera s/n, SP-46022 Valencia, Spain

Duration: 2010-2011 Budget: 45,000 € Time Horizon: 2012 Date of Brief: March 2011  

 

Download EFP Brief No. 212_Tech_Mining

Sources and References

Cozzens, S.; Gatchair, S.; Kang, J.; Kim, K.; Lee, H.J. ; Ordoñez, G.; Porter, A. (2010): Emerging Technologies: quantitative identification and measurement. Technology Analysis & Strategic Management 22 (3): 361-376.

Belver, R.; Carrasco, E. (2007) Tools for strategic business decisions: Technology maps. The 4th International Scientific Conference “Business and Management.Vilnius, Lithuania 5-6 October. Selected Papers. Vilnius Gediminas Technical University Publishing House “Technika”, 2007, 299-303.

Huang, L.; Porter, A.; Guo, Y. (2009): Exploring a Systematic Technology Forecasting Approach for New & Emerging Sciences & Technologies: A Case Study of Nano-enhanced Biosensors, in Proceedings of the Atlanta Conference on Science and Innovation Policy. Georgia Tech University, Atlanta, USA, 2–3 October.

Lee, S.; Yoon, B.; Park, Y. (2009): An Approach to Discovering New Technology Opportunities: Keyword-based Patent Map Approach. Technovation 29: 481–497. doi:10.1016/j.technovation.2008.10.006

Porter, A.; Newman, N. (2011): Mining external R&D. Technovation 31 (4): 171-176, doi: 10.1016/j.technovation.2011.01.001

Porter, A.; Kongthon, A.; Chyi, L. (2002): Research Profiling: Improving the Literature Review. Scientometrics 53 (3): 351–370. doi:10.1023/A:1014873029258

Rio, R.; Cilleruelo, E. (2010): Discovering technologies using techmining: the case of waste recycling. The 6th International Scientific Conference “Business and Management 2010. Vilnius, Lithuania 13-14 May. Selected Papers. Vilnius Gediminas Technical University Publishing House “Technika”, Vilnius, 2010, 950-955.. doi:10.3846/bm.2010.127

Rio, R.; Larrañaga, J.; Elizagarate, F. (2008): Patentalava. Dynamics of Innovation Strategies and their Relationship with the Evolution of Patents. The Alava province case, in The 5th International Scientific Conference “Business and Management”. Vilnius, Lithuania, 5–6 October. Selected papers. Vilnius: Technika, 475–480.

Yun, Y.; Akers, L.; Klose, T.; Barcelon, C. (2008): Text Mining and Visualization Tools – Impressions of Emerging Capabilities, World Patent Information 30: 280–293. doi:10.1016/j.wpi.2008.01.007

Zhu, D.; Porter, A. L. (2002): Automated Extraction and Visualization of Information for Technological Intelligence and Forecasting, Technological Forecasting and Social Change 69: 495–506. doi:10.1016/S0040-1625(01)00157-3

EFP Brief No. 195: Influence of Foresight on Public Policy in Flanders

Friday, September 30th, 2011

This brief presents the findings of a research project aimed at understanding the influence of policy-oriented foresight on public policy in Flanders. A foresight identifying six strategic clusters for technology and innovation policy in Flanders is analysed. The results of this analysis show that the foresight-oriented technology assessment (FTA) did have a significant impact on the policy process, but the greater effect might prove to be in its role as a reference point for future FTAs, which will then give shape to long-term technology and innovation policy in Flanders.

Assessing the Impact of Foresight

Policy-oriented foresight or foresight in a public policy context is aimed at supporting the decision-making process. By anticipating as much as possible different, alternative developments, it seeks to contribute to effective long-term decision-making. The policy process itself, however, is non-linear and often depends on temporary “policy windows” (Kingdon, 1995), which leave the specific role of exercises aimed at strengthening the evidence base of public action a little unclear. This is also the case for policy-oriented foresight.

The literature on foresight contains many studies that identify factors for success. However, little empirical evidence is available that policy actors actually use the outputs of foresight exercises aimed at supporting policy decisions.

Based on the factors for success found in the foresight literature, our research project analysed three case studies. The first case examined was a foresight identifying six strategic clusters for technology and innovation policy in Flanders. This brief assesses whether and how the foresight influenced the Flemish government’s policy decisions. The analysis of influence was informed by the evaluation literature since studies on foresight rarely address this question.

The first section of this brief provides insight into different aspects of the foresight research in this particular case. The assessment of the influence of the foresight in the second section is followed by a first set of recommendations on how to improve the relationship between policy-oriented foresight and public policy.

Foresight in Flanders

The Flemish Council for Science and Innovation (VRWI) conducted a foresight on innovation and technology in Flanders from 2005 to 2006. The VRWI is a strategic advisory council in the policy domain of science and innovation. It advises the Flemish government on its science and technology policies either in a proactive manner or at the government’s request. The council is a multi-actor arena where different stakeholders in the field of science and innovation meet. These stakeholders mostly have an industrial background, but they also include scientists from universities or representatives from other knowledge institutions in Flanders as well as government representatives from the administrative or political level. The VRWI operates as a ‘boundary organization’ (Guston, 2001) between science, politics and society; this will prove important for the influence of the foresight exercise that the organisation conducted on public policy in Flanders.

Approach towards Technology & Innovation

The foresight was set up in 2005 at the VRWI’s own initiative. It aimed at “providing a long-term reference point for technology and innovation in Flanders” (Smits et al. 2006:10). The starting point for the study can be traced back as far as 1997 when the VRWI and other key stakeholders in the technology and innovation field felt the need to gain more insight into the scientific, economic and societal developments that might possibly influence the welfare and well-being of the citizenry in Flanders. Together with a group of university researchers, a process was organised to develop an appropriate methodology that would serve to assess this problem. Methodological inspiration was found in foresights from Japan and Germany as well as those conducted at the European level.

Initially, the foresight had been designed as a rather broad exercise, addressing different societal, economic and scientific problems. However, this broad focus was not retained. The VRWI had initiated the foresight proactively, but upon further consultation with stakeholders, among them political actors, the scope of the study was narrowed down to focus on technology and innovation. Central to the analysis were those developments in the science, technology and innovation field necessary for Flanders to remain competitive both within the European area and the globalised world.

Once the focus on technology and innovation had been established, the different steps to conduct the foresight were put in practice. The VRWI took the lead while cooperating closely with the scientific research group that had developed the methodological approach.

Methodology

The foresight was conducted in three consecutive steps, leading to the formulation of specific policy priorities for six sectors (or clusters) of technology and innovation in Flanders. The third step was the actual foresight. There, the future was assessed with a medium-term horizon of about ten years, i.e. 2015. As will be elaborated below, the study was highly participative and intensive.

In a first phase, a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) was conducted on the different sectors in the technology and innovation field in Flanders.

The second phase of the study consisted of linking the results of the SWOT analysis with those of a broader European foresight. Based on this synthesis, a high-level group of experts (the ‘captains of industry’ in Flanders) identified six strategic clusters for technology and innovation in Flanders. These cover a broad range of technological and innovative domains and are clustered on a thematic base. The six strategic clusters that were identified by the high-level group in this second phase are

  • Transport, logistics and services supply chain management
  • ICT and services in health care
  • Health care prevention and treatment; food and agriculture
  • New materials, especially nanotechnology, and the manufacturing industry
  • ICT for socio-economic innovation
  • Energy and environment for the services and manufacturing industry

The first two phases took about a year to be completed. The selective expert consultation at the end of phase two set the stage for a broader consultation of experts via the Delphi method in the third phase. This final phase was framed in terms of the six strategic clusters identified. The actors consulted were all R&D experts in the field of technology and innovation in Flanders. In total, 130 R&D experts participated in the third phase of the study, which took six months to be completed. The experts were divided along the six strategic clusters identified and, using the Delphi method, were asked to assess 160 possible future developments as well as the current and future capacities in the field in Flanders.

Via two or more rounds of discussion, a consensus was reached between the experts in each of the strategic clusters. They identified 30 specific priorities in technology and innovation. Additionally, 85 of the 130 experts agreed to evaluate factors critical for the achievement of these priorities. The VRWI Council then validated these results and formulated specific recommendations for the different stakeholders: universities, industry and government. These recommendations were of particular importance to the latter. A more detailed account on the role of government within a broader technology and innovation context and the use of the results of the study is provided in the next section.

Diffusion of Results among a Wide Range of Actors

The foresight was captured in two reports. Firstly, a summary report introduces the 30 priorities, the factors for success and the set of recommendations. Secondly, a more technical report elaborates upon the foresight process itself. It provides a detailed account of the three phases that constitute the foresight.

Additionally, the Council and its president took specific action to promote the results of the study among a broad range of actors. They did this by presentations and road shows to diffuse the results. An important step in this respect was to engage the support of universities and industry not only before and during the foresight process but also after the foresight was completed. This assured diffusion of the results among a first and important set of stakeholders. A third important stakeholder, government, was much less intensely involved in the foresight. Diffusion of the results of the study among political and administrative actors is, however, an important factor for the foresight to have an impact on technology and innovation in Flanders. The next section assesses to what extent this was accomplished.

Influence on Public Policy in Flanders

Did the foresight influence the Flemish government’s strategic decision-making on technology and innovation? To answer this question, we must first consider the concept of influence itself. Moreover, we must describe the broader technology and innovation policy context in Flanders before we can adequately address the question of influence on policy there. These are the issues we will now turn to.

A Framework for Assessing Policy Influence

From the perspective of policy actors, influence of evidence on policy can be viewed as knowledge utilisation. There are three dimensions for the analysis of influence on policy: source, intention and moment. This brief focuses in particular on the first dimension of influence: the source of influence.

The source of influence of foresight on policy can be product-related or process-related. Product-related influence is the influence of the output of foresight, i.e. the results of the study presented in a report. The results of foresight can influence policy in different ways. We differentiate between four types of product-related influence:

  • Direct instrumental influence is reflected in official policy documents.
  • Conceptual influence is seen as “enlightenment” (Weiss, 1980) of policy makers.
  • Agenda-setting influence means that new topics can be discerned, which were previously not under the attention of policy makers.
  • Political-strategic influence takes place when political actors legitimise or oppose government actions based on the study’s results.

The foresight can also have a significant process-related influence on policy and policy actors. The involvement of political or administrative actors at an early stage of the process might promote a more future-oriented view on policy or a better understanding of the possible added value of foresight for policy. Indirectly, this process-related influence might enhance the product-related use of foresight since it makes policy actors more receptive to its outcomes.

Importance of the Specific Policy Context

From a historical perspective, technology and innovation policy in Flanders can be characterised as predominantly technology-pushed or supply-driven. Policy ‘demand’ was and is to a large extent adapted to industrial and scientific ‘supply’. In other words, technology and innovation policy in Flanders is usually developed bottom up. Public funding is mostly responsive to the R&D policy of industrial actors and of universities. It is to a much lesser extent coordinated (let alone steered) by government within a broader strategic framework. The foresight tried to provide such a strategic framework by identifying future technology and innovation priorities. Via its recommendations, it also assigned a specific role to the Flemish government for the framework to be implemented. In principle, the Flemish government could assume different roles, ranging from a hands-off and encouraging position (bottom-up policy approach) to a hands-on and actively steering role (top down). The latter is in order when the task at hand requires making strategic policy choices and taking the necessary actions to enable them.

Assuming that the foresight served as necessary input for establishing a strategic framework on technology and innovation in Flanders, the involvement of a broad range of stakeholders was not only a logical consequence in a supply-driven policy domain. More importantly, it secured the necessary stakeholder support for implementing the priorities–which is especially critical when the strategic priorities are defined by a hands-on, steering government.

Policy Influence Analysed in Documents

The influence of the foresight on public policy was analysed through a thorough document analysis and interviews. The document analysis included strategic policy documents, policy briefs, white papers, parliamentary documents etc. The interviews were carried out with political and administrative stakeholders as well as members of the VRWI responsible for the study.

Challenge-driven Innovation Approach Inspired by Foresight Exercise

At first, the report had no influence on public policy. The foresight report was published in 2007, at the end of the then Flemish government’s legislative period when policy directions had already been decided upon. The policies in place were further enacted toward the end of the legislature. Later on, however, the results of the foresight eventually significantly influenced public policy in Flanders in several ways.

First, there is reference to its results in official strategic policy documents, such as the broader strategic framework project “Flanders in Action” set up by the Flemish government to make Flanders a frontrunner region in the social as well as in the economic domain. This emphasis on the strategic level was translated into the Flemish government’s policy note 2009-2014 on innovation policy and the related policy briefs and actions. More recently, in May 2011, the Flemish government approved a conceptual brief giving shape to a more hands-on strategic approach in technology and innovation in Flanders. The focus on a ‘challenge-driven innovation’ approach is particularly inspired by the strategic orientation provided in the foresight. Moreover, the establishment of innovation nodes can be traced back, among others, to the strategic clusters defined by the foresight in 2007. It therefore seems fair to say that the foresight has had an important direct instrumental influence on public policy in Flanders.

The study is also well known among a broad range of actors in the policy domain. Especially the first two phases of the study (SWOT and relative positioning of Flanders in Europe) have served as a knowledge base for political and administrative actors in government, marking an important conceptual influence of the foresight.

When we consider the study’s influence on the political agenda, political attention seems to have been mostly directed toward the perceived need to make strategic choices for the domain. This need was addressed in the foresight and played a key role in conducting the exercise. Contrary to a predominantly hands-off approach in the past, the government now has come to consider, accept and implement a more demand-driven approach when deciding on innovation policy at the strategic level.

Thus, we can discern an important, directly instrumental and conceptual influence on policy in terms of agenda-setting. This is a medium-term influence, i.e. the effects are observed three to five years after the study was published. By contrast, there does not seem to have been any politically strategic influence.

Process-related Trade-off for Technology & Innovation Actors

Additionally, the foresight has also had an important process-related influence. It is considered an important first exercise of its kind in the policy domain since it was aimed, quite explicitly, at bringing about a strategic, long-term vision and making policy choices in technology and innovation in Flanders. It has introduced a certain dynamic among the actors in the policy domain itself. Several actors indicate, for example, that a follow-up foresight is necessary to develop an adequate long-term strategic policy in the domain of technology and innovation since this foresight dates from 2006 with a horizon of 2015.

Authors: Ellen Fobé                                      ellen.fobe@soc.kuleuven.be

Marleen Brans                                marleen.brans@soc.kuleuven.be

Sponsors: Flemish government: Policy Research Centre – Governmental Organization in Flanders 2007-2011
Type: Assessment of influence of foresight on public policy
Organizer: Research project: Evidence-based policy-making: matching supply and demand of quantitative policy information and foresight. Project supervisor: Prof. Dr. Marleen Brans; researcher: Ellen Fobé
Duration: 2010-2011 Budget: N/A Time Horizon: 2007-2011 Date of Brief: June 2011  

 

Download EFP Brief No. 195_Influence_of_Foresight

Sources and References

Project link and research themes of the Policy Research Centre – Governmental Organization in Flanders

  • http://soc.kuleuven.be/sbov/eng/research/epr14.htm
  • http://soc.kuleuven.be/sbov/eng/index.htm

References

  • Guston, D. (2000): Between politics and science: assuring the integrity and productivity of research. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  • Kingdon, J.W. (1995): Agendas, Alternatives and Public Policies. Second edition, Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
  • Smits, E., Ratinckx, E. & Thoen, V. (2006): Technology and innovation in Flanders: priorities. Brussels: Flemish Council for Science and Innovation.
  • Weiss, C. (1980): Knowledge creep and decision accretion. Knowledge: Creation, Diffusion, Utilization 1(3), pp.381-404.

EFP Brief No. 180: Emergence and Design in Foresight Methods

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

This paper focuses on an analysis of the Millennium Project’s “Futures Research Methodology – Version 3.0” report with the aim of making it more meaningful and useful particularly for foresight practitioners but also for users in general. The compilation of future methodologies is assessed in terms of the understanding of the nature of systems implied in the method and what it suggests as the best means of influencing systems. The analysis aims at improving our understand-ing of the wide range of knowledge, practices and assumptions these methods convey and enhancing our ability to learn about futures and expand our horizons of futures knowledge.

The Decision-making Landscape

The following analysis of the Millennium Project’s “Fu-tures Research Methodology – Version 3.0” starts from the claim that much of the sensitivity of an organisation derives from its members and their ability to flexibly apply different theories and methods. Practitioners need to pay more attention to theory and understand how the theory and the methods they use significantly influence the way they perceive their environment and the outcomes of strategic processes.

Figure 1 describes the landscape in which foresight methods are used. The figure identifies four distinct types of landscapes, two of which – engineering ap-proaches and systems thinking – have a long history, find widespread use and currently dominate thinking and practice in strategic management. The other two – mathematical complexity and social complexity – are not yet widely used and represent both a contrasting and a complementary view of how the future emerges.

Let me first clarify the differences in the basic assump-tions between these four approaches: The vertical di-mension looks at the nature of the possible ways of understanding systems and the horizontal one at the means of controlling or directing that system. In the vertical dimension, design is contrasted with emer-gence: engineering approaches and systems thinking represent design, and mathematical complexity and social complexity stand for more emergent processes.

How sense-making is accomplished and what kinds of solutions are provided in moving across time and space is at the heart of the model of analysis. By design, we mean the ability of a manager, expert or researcher to stand outside the system and design the system as a whole. In case of emergent systems, the system cannot be understood or managed as a whole by a manager, expert and researcher, or by anyone at all for that matter, because the system emerges through the interac-tion of actors who act on the basis of local knowledge and their own principles. In the horizontal dimension, we contrast rules that reduce ambiguity with heuristics that provide direction while allowing for a degree of ambiguity that can adapt to different and changing contexts. There is a design element to emergent sys-tems but not in the same way as in the case of designed systems. That is to say, there are various ways to influence the evolution of emergent systems, but they can-not be deliberately controlled or directed by any single actor or group of actors.

Communicating the Properties of the Methods

We can take the next step by placing the methods in the sense-making model (Figure 2 below). The model works as an effective communication tool capable of delivering a large amount of information about the methodology of Futures Research Methodology – Ver-sion 3.0, the properties of each method as well as the relationships between the methods. The analysis reveals that most of the methods pre-sented in Futures Research Methodology – Version 3.0 are designed to reduce ambiguity. They concentrate on knowing, or to be more precise, on providing more knowledge to a decision-making process. Most of the methods adopt a position outside the system in order to bring new information into the system. Other types of frequently used methods are those that seek to create an awareness of possible futures and what they con-vey. The embedded conception of causality, of how things happen, is that there is an actor capable of dis-covering the causalities and designing interventions that will lead to a desirable future.

There are methods that explicitly or implicitly rely on different causal assumptions about how things happen. The methods placed in the upper half of the model share the belief that things happen through the (local) interaction of agents. The movement towards a future is seen to depend on the other actors, the adaptive moves of a single actor influencing other actors’ strate-gies by creating new possibilities and constraints. Comparing the number of methods found in the upper part of the model to the number in the lower section, this approach would seem to be less popular among futurists than its design counterpart. However, some methods are constructed with the aim of reducing am-biguity and simulating emergent options. The smallest number of methods lies in the social complexity square indicating that there are few methods trying to provide direction in a not always orderly environment while allowing for some degree of ambiguity.

Next Steps towards More Conscious Strategies

We assume that the qualities of a method derive at least partly from assumptions about the basic nature of organisational life. The answers to these assumptions reveal three important properties of each method: how the method stands in respect to whether or how much managers are or should be in control, how ordered or chaotic the landscape where the actions take place is or will be, and finally what the means offered for shap-ing the future are.

It is perhaps correct to claim that methods presented in the lower left-hand square of Figure 1 are or have be-come well known and that they are also relatively easy to use. In the upper left-hand square, the methods are much more sophisticated; they often require some mathematical background and programming skills. Despite their sophistication, there exist some serious doubts concerning their capability of offering anything other than engineering approaches. In the lower right-hand square, systems approaches handle ambiguity better than more design-orientated approaches and offer more stability than emergent approaches but only work well in conditions where there are a limited number of interactions and the system can be designed. Finally, in the upper right-hand square, social complexity is presented as a field of possibility not yet fully utilized. It has not been widely adopted because its main strength is limited to dealing with poorly understood emergent, nonlinear phenomena and providing explanations and an understanding of a system’s direction in the absence of control of that system.

One more argument can be added to the ones pre-sented so far, namely that the business environment is becoming ever more complex. And one conclusion to be drawn from this should be that companies need to shift from ambiguity reducing strategies to ambiguity absorb-ing ones. All this calls for developing theoretical and methodological tools very different from those we use today. Such a shift would require incorporating emer-gence into our understanding of strategic processes and the possibility of a new kind of order arising from, or being found hidden within, complex phenomena, i.e. an order based on the tools and methods by which people make and unmake ordered and unordered worlds.

Download EFP Brief No. 180_Emergence and Design in Foresight Methods

Sources and References

Aaltonen, M. (2007) The Third Lens. Multi-ontology Sense-making and Strategic Decision-making. Ashgate Publishing Limited. Aldershot.

Aaltonen, M. (2009) “Multi-Ontology, Sense-making and the Emergence of the Future”. Futures 41, 279-283.

Aaltonen, M. (2010) Robustness – Anticipatory and Adaptive Human Systems. Emergent Publications. Litchfield Park, USA.

Aaltonen, M. & Sanders, T.I. (2006) “Identifying Systems’ New Initial Conditions as Influence Points for Future”. Foresight. Vol. 8, No. 3, 28-35.

Aaltonen, M. & Barth, T. (2005) “Making Sense of Future. Analysis of Futures Research Methodology V2.0”. Journal of Futures Studies. May 2005, 9(4), 45-60.

Aaltonen, M. (2005) Futures Research Methods as Boundary Objects. Futura 2-3/2005, 29-38.

Arbnor, I. & Bjerke, B. (1997) Methodology for Creating Business Knowledge. Sage. London.

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Dervin, B. & Foreman-Wernet, L. & Layterbach, E. (2002) Sense-Making Methodology. Reader. Hampton Press Inc. New Jersey.

Glenn, Jerome C. & Gordon, Theodore J. (2009) Futures Research Methodology. CD-ROM. Version 3.0, Washington, DC: The Millenium Project.

Mitleton-Kelly, E. (2003) Complex Systems and Evolutionary Perspectives on Organisations. The Ap-plication of Complexity Theory to Organisations. Pergamon. Amsterdam.

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Stacey, R. D. & Griffin, D. & Shaw, P. (2000) Complexity Management. Fad or Radical Challenge to Systems Thinking? Routledge. London & New York.

EFP Brief No. 174: The German BMBF Foresight Process

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

In September 2007, the Federal German Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) launched a foresight process in order to sustain Germany’s status as a research and education location. The BMBF Foresight Process aimed at 1) identifying new focuses in research and technology, 2) designating areas for cross-cutting activities, 3) exploring fields for strategic partnerships, and 4) deriving priorities for R&D policy.

The Foresight Process

“The BMBF Foresight Process”, subtitled “Implementation and Further Development of a Foresight Process”, started by assessing present-day science and technology and was broadened to look into the future over the next 10 to 15 years – and even further. It took into account the developments at the national as well as international level.

The process was conducted by a consortium comprising the Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (Fraunhofer ISI) and the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (Fraunhofer IAO). Other institutions like the Technical University of Berlin, the Institute for Nanotechnology (INT) of the Research Centre Karlsruhe, the RWTH Aachen, the Austrian Research Centres GmbH (ARC), Systems Research Division – Dept. of Technology Policy, the Manufuture Secretariat Germany of the German “Verband deutscher Maschinen- und Anlagenbauer” (VDMA) supported the exercise. The process linked both foresight and monitoring in its integrated approach

Introducing New Methodologies

In order to achieve the targets, a tailor-made combination of methods was applied. Since there is not one single methodology as in a simple input-output model, a combination of methods, as is standard in most foresight processes worldwide, had to be used to meet all four objectives (see Figure 1). These objectives were defined by the BMBF when launching the call for tenders.

Objective 1 is to identify new focuses in research and technology that the BMBF must address. Objective 2 is to define interdisciplinary topics and areas, accordingly, that require broader attention and are to be tackled by various departments and groups of actors. The fields thus determined have to be addressed by different partners in the innovation system (strategic partnerships) over a longer period of time (objective 3), and measures should be devised to promote the fields in question (objective 4).

In order to achieve objectives 1 and 2, the foresight approach applied well-known search strategies as well as other methods from innovation research and international foresight activities alongside new, creative methods. The themes to be investigated at the national and international level were further developed by experts taking into account existing forward-looking road-mapping and strategy processes from the public and private sector.

The first phase stressed the national search for weak and strong signals, while the international search was focussed on the later second phase. As there is no one single methodology for search procedures, the methods involved quantitative methods like bibliometrics as well as qualitative approaches such as workshops, expert interviews, Internet and qualitative literature searches.

A new approach called inventor scouting (identifying young inventors and interviewing them) added to the methodology. For the evaluation of the topics, a set of criteria was drawn up. The criteria provided the basis for an online survey and were also used to guide the selection process.

The foresight search activities were flanked by an assessment process. With the assistance of an international panel, latest developments in various technological-scientific subject areas were analysed in order to attain a reliable description of the international “state-of-the-art”. For the monitoring process, an international panel of well-known and acknowledged experts in their fields was asked about the current state and new developments in research and technology. In a second wave nearly one year later, they were once again interviewed to consolidate their opinions and give feedback on potential topics for the BMBF that met the objectives.

The topics to be identified were supposed to still be in the research or development phase. Topics that can be expected to either enter the implementation phase during the next years or be transferred to innovations in the next ten years were excluded from the lists of topics to be considered. For a first selection, a set of criteria was developed together with the BMBF.

The topics were reformulated, internally assessed and re-assessed several times via an internal database and scientific papers. To provide input to the first workshop in November 2007, a first set of scientific papers describing the developments in the fields was written and distributed as a basis for the discussions.

Topic coordinators (sometimes two persons) were nominated for every field that were responsible for defining and working out the details in the respective fields but also for coordinating with other topic coordinators in areas of overlap. The topic coordinators not only scrutinised the future themes but also the innovation system and identified the actors in the fields in question.

A bibliometric analysis provided further input into this process. The topic coordinators defined key words for a stakeholder analysis. The key words were used for counting literature indexed in the Web of Science and for a qualitative analysis. The (Internet, literature and other) searches and first selection processes were complemented by expert interviews and informal talks to gain an impression of the importance and potential impact of the huge number of topics under consideration.

Golden Topics

Topics in which BMBF or German research institutions were already very active at that point in time were labelled ‘golden’ and in most cases were no longer pursued.

The second phase of the searches ended with a first assessment of the topics found. An online survey among experts from the German innovation landscape was performed in September 2008 for a broader assessment of the topics, their importance and their time frame.

In parallel, the corresponding innovation systems were analysed in order to identify candidates for potential strategic partnerships, which were to be proposed in 2009 at the end of the whole process (objectives 3 and 4). In the last phase of the process, recommendations for R&D policy were also derived. The last phase ended with a conference. It marked the beginning of integrating the topics thus identified into the German innovation system and the BMBF agenda. It was a bridging conference rather than a final act.

The workshop participants differed widely (experts from science, society and the economy), and various channels of surveying were used: “experts” and “laypeople” via the interviews, young persons by inventor scouting, and a wide range of persons with broad or specific knowledge through the online survey (more than 2,659 persons). The international monitoring panel consisted of about 35 persons.

Established and New Future Fields

In the process, 14 established future fields were worked out in detail. They were derived from the German High-tech Strategy. In these fields, future topics were identified, re-clustered and assessed via a set of criteria. Seven new cross-cutting fields were arrived at by clustering the most important issues from the established fields. They are rooted in science and technology but have major impacts on society and the economy as well.

Established Future Fields

  • Life sciences and biotechnology
  • Information and communication technologies
  • Materials and their production processes
  • Nanotechnology
  • Optical technologies
  • Industrial production systems (automation, robotics, mechanical engineering, process engineering, etc.)
  • Health research and medicine
  • Environmental protection and sustainable development
  • Energy supply and consumption (generation, storage, transfer etc.)
  • Mobility: transport and traffic technology, mobility, logistics (land, water, air and space)
  • Neurosciences and research on learning
  • Systems and complexity research (including research on technological and scientific convergence; security research)
  • Services science
  • Water infrastructures

New Future Fields

Human-technology cooperation: This new future field provides an integrated research perspective on the complex interplay between human and technological change. In view of our increasingly dense technological surroundings and the expanding technical structure of human life, novel configurations of humans and technology must be embraced in all their complexity. Technological innovation can only be achieved in connection with a deep understanding of human thought, feeling, communication and behaviour to provide a new quality of seamless human-technology cooperation. A re-orientation of human beings against the background of technological change is therefore just as central as reviewing the concept of the machine in terms of new machine agents. Further research must cover the relationship of these two parties, whether in the form of human-technical teams or in the wider perspective of human-machine culture.

Deciphering ageing: Ageing continues over our entire life span and is a multifactorial process. Some ageing processes cause disorders or disease. The biological processes of ageing and brain development (e.g. changes to neuroplasticity) that occur over the course of a lifetime have so far only been partly explained. Future findings in the areas of cellular and molecular developmental biology will provide new insights into cognitive, emotional and psychomotoric processes.

Sustainable living spaces (the field “infrastructures” was split into “water infrastructures” and “infrastructures for human living spaces”): Living spaces will in future be different in terms of structure and organisation. Driven by the reorganisation of ways of life and technological possibilities, chronological, spatial residential, and living patterns are changing. Together with demands for sustainable spatial development, these changes require innovation and adaption in various research areas.

In order to react to continuing social trends in the long-term, settlement-structural concepts will have to be made more dynamic to better manage basic conditions and, for example, flexible, more environmentally friendly spatial and settlement structures will have to be established. Efforts to meet these demands, which are still in flux, are obstructed by current settlements and infrastructures, which can only be changed at high cost and involving a considerable expenditure of resources in the short to medium-term. All infrastructures, for providing energy, transport, water and even information and communications, must be made more flexible at a technical level, and the possibility of reconstructing or dismantling them in the future must be taken into account at their construction.

ProductionConsumption 2.0: This future field aims at establishing long-term sustainable production and consumption paradigms and involves research into new ways of supplying products and services according to need in the face of changing global conditions. At the same time, it addresses one of the greatest challenges of the future: maintaining the ecosphere, which is also vital to human survival. Research in this area focuses on sustainable industrial and social patterns of materials usage. Researchers in established areas in production research, services research, environmental research, biotechnology and materials sciences are all working with great drive on aspects of sustainable practices. However, they alone cannot adequately accomplish the necessary systemic transformation of the entire structure.

Modelling and simulation: New methods of handling complexity based on modelling and simulation require multidisciplinary approaches. Working out the similarities in different applications may be a first step toward adapting the instruments and tools in other disciplines so that new simulations are possible in the future, even in technical and social science contexts.

Time research: Time is a bottleneck factor in many developments. Research into time is a central aspect and includes issues such as the chronological order of complex processes in making applications faster and more efficient, cost-effective and intelligent, or in paralleling and synchronising processes (e.g. Internet servers, production processes). The issue of dynamic and chronological development on various time scales, especially of non-linear processes, can only be dealt with in the long-term. One very dynamic future topic within time research is chronobiology, an area in which there are already initial findings on precisely-timed medication delivery. A central research aspect of time research is understanding and being able to specifically control the factor of time with the help of time efficiency research, the precise measurement of time (e.g. for GPS applications, such as precision agriculture and the remote maintenance of machines) and time-resolution (e.g. 4D precision).

Energy solutions with a) energy concert: Securing an affordable, safe and climate-compatible energy supply is a central global challenge and an outstanding leading future market with high relevance for the economy and quality of life and a powerful, influential impact on many research fields. Sustainable, coordinated solutions for production, distribution and use are all equally important in this context. But there is still a cacophony. As many actors are involved and many disciplines contribute, energy is a field that needs a symphony.

  1. b) Energy from the environment: Energy harvesting is already known, but its use limited. New ideas are expected that make it possible to harvest energy from different kinds of environments and transfer it to miniaturized machines. This is especially necessary for devices that are out of reach (implants, built-in domestic appliances and others).

Challenges for Science, Technology and Innovation Policy

New future fields can only be realised if there are advocates and if action is taken to that end. As all fields are different, new challenges for science, technology and innovation policy will arise. An international workshop in early October 2008 provided a platform for generating ideas for recommendations concerning policies and research alliances (objectives 3 and 4) to be further elaborated in 2009. The workshop took place in Hamburg and gathered international and German experts with experience in promoting new or cross-cutting issues. The purpose of the workshop was to discuss what kinds of measures are successful in implementing new or cross-cutting topics, along the lines of examples from the past outside of the BMBF Foresight Process. The guiding questions were therefore:

  • How can future issues and topics with a time horizon of 10 to 15 years and longer be rapidly and efficiently absorbed into an existing innovation system?
  • How do organisations or companies in other countries deal with cross-cutting issues and future topics with a time horizon of 10 to 15 years and beyond?

High-ranking Discussions and Impact on Policy

New approaches in innovation policy are necessary to implement and realise new cross-cutting fields of the future. The approaches vary and need to take into account the different stakeholder groups involved. Therefore, in the last phase of the foresight process, the actors of the current innovation system were identified and potential actor groups named who could further foster the different topics or fields.

The results of the BMBF Foresight Process were presented during a conference in Bonn in the presence of the Undersecretary of State, high-ranking persons, decision-makers and interested experts. Two hundred persons participated in this conference held at the former parliament building. Part of the conference was organized into so-called “topic islands” where the new fields were presented and discussed in an interdisciplinary manner. All topic islands had a different programme, and the participants were free to choose where they wanted to go. The discussions were very lively.

Talks in BMBF revealed large interest in the new fields so that follow-up activities were launched. The first such activities were “follow-up workshops” to bring together different BMBF departments and enable them to exchange views. In 2010, the BMBF started strategic dialogues as an opportunity for looking into the new future fields of the BMBF Foresight Process from different perspectives. This is necessary, on the one hand, for the further development of content and, on the other, to ensure that important aspects are included in the integration and translation of results into funding policy at an early stage.

Another policy result is the foundation of a new division (Referat 524 – Department 524) at the BMBF in June 2010, which has been named “Demografischer Wandel; Mensch-Technik-Kooperation” (Demographic Change; Human-Technology Cooperation).

Authors: Kerstin Cuhls                           kerstin.cuhls@isi.fraunhofer.de
Sponsors: Federal Ministry for Education and Research, Germany, Referat 113
Type: National foresight exercise
Organizer: Fraunhofer Institute for Systems and Innovation Research (ISI), Kerstin Cuhls, together with the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering (IAO)
Duration: 9/2007–7/2009 Budget: 4.5 m € Time Horizon: > 10 years Date of Brief: June 2010  

 

Downloads EFP Brief No. 174_German BMBF Foresight

Sources and References

The reports are available at www.bmbf-foresight.de

German High-tech Strategy: http://www.hightech-strategie.de/

Cuhls, K.; Beyer-Kutzner, A.; Bode, O.; Ganz, W.; Warnke, P.: The BMBF Foresight Process, in: Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 76 (2009) 1187–1197.

Cuhls, K.; Ganz, W; and Warnke, P. (eds.): Foresight-Prozess im Auftrag des BMBF. Etablierte Zukunftsfelder und ihre Zukunftsthemen, IRB; Karlsruhe, Stuttgart 2009 (Original in German), www.isi.fraunhofer.de/bmbf-foresight.php.

Cuhls, K.; Ganz, W. und Warnke, P. (eds.): Foresight-Prozess im Auftrag des BMBF. Zukunftsfelder neuen Zuschnitts, IRB (Original in German), Karlsruhe/ Stuttgart 2009, www.isi.fraunhofer.de/bmbf-foresight.php.

Cuhls, K.; Ganz, W. and Warnke, P. (eds.): Foresight Process – On behalf of the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Report, New Future Fields; Karlsruhe, Stuttgart 2009 (English version), www.isi.fraunhofer.de/bmbf-foresight.php.

EFP Brief No. 169: Foresight Toolbox for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

“Foresight-Toolbox für den Mittelstand” is a research project to evaluate the specific needs of and identify suitable methodological approaches for strategic planning in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). The project’s centrepiece is a web-based toolbox at www.zukunft-im-mittelstand.de, which participants may use to create foresight processes and which includes downloadable descriptions of methods and various tools. User habits and stored processes are the empirical base for the present research. Also, ten qualitative issue-focused interviews with various-sized SMEs from different industries completed the insights gained from SME-specific future-oriented work.

Meeting the Needs of SMEs

The present research aims to evaluate the specific needs of and identify adequate methods for foresight and strategic planning in the context of SMEs. According to an earlier research project implemented by Z_punkt The Foresight Company, “Corporate Foresight im Mittelstand” (2008), innovative and successful enterprises use systematic foresight and future-oriented work methodologies more often than less innovative and successful enterprises. Based on this empirical finding, the current project focuses on the perspective of SMEs to develop foresight instruments that match the requirements of SMEs. Our main hypothesis suggests that selection and combination of foresight methods differ according to the indicators enterprise size and industry. The procedure contains both quantitative analysis and qualitative analysis.

Quantitative and Qualitative Research Combined

The web-platform www.zukunft-im-mittelstand.de provides a set of 17 different foresight methods to create individual foresight processes. User habits are evaluated based on the main variables size (number of employees) and industry (manufacturing, service or retail). Individual methods and combined processes are analysed in two different steps. The quantitative data analysis focuses on the following questions:

  • What describes a typical SME foresight process?
  • What is the methodological preference?
  • Which methods or processes are used to reach specific aims?
  • What preferences can be determined based on size and branch?

Qualitative Research

The quantitative data analysis is supplemented by qualitative interviews with decision-makers of ten SMEs of different sizes and industries. Using the methodological approach of problem-centred interviews, a semi-narrative, guideline-based interview technique, the participants explain their practices of strategic planning, specific needs and requirements, and typical problems and solutions of foresight practice. The findings of the qualitative research are enriched by case studies and interpreted in a comparative study along the following lines:

  • What is the relevance of foresight and strategic planning in general?
  • Which methods or processes are used to reach specific aims?
  • How can foresight and strategic planning be integrated into an enterprise’s structure and decision-making process?
  • What approaches can be identified based on size and industry?
  • What would define an ideal process in the specific context of SMEs?

Web-based Foresight Toolbox

The Foresight Toolbox, as the centrepiece of the project, has been online at www.zukunft-im-mittelstand.de since July 2009. Access is free and enables individuals to design foresight processes using downloadable explanations and tools that support strategic practice. The toolbox concept includes 17 different foresight methods structured in five logical steps. For each method, simple and expert versions are available, which differ with regard to complexity and effort necessary. The offered selection of methods represents the state-of-the-art of science-based futurology and fulfils the requirements of strategic planning in the context of SMEs.

In principle, there are no restrictions regarding the combination of methods for foresight processes. All methods can be mixed with each other, however, participants are provided with information on the best possible combinations. In addition to full foresight processes, users may also download individual methods or tools that they find interesting and useful for their specific requirements.

Based on the Foresight Toolbox, decision-makers should be able to perform a professional process of strategic planning in pursuit of various business aims. The Foresight Toolbox conveys both methodological knowledge and competence for implementing and communicating future strategies.

First Step: Defining Aims and Focus of the Foresight Process

In technology foresight practice, foresight processes begin with the definition of specific goals and aims. This first step designates and limits observation scope and structures the following process. The toolbox offers a set of four different objectives that comprise the different fields of strategic relevance, including the level of products or services and organisational development or market dispositions:

  • Find future strategies
  • Develop ideas for innovations
  • Open new markets / target groups
  • Early detection of changes in markets

Furthermore, the platform provides a checklist with guiding questions to create the framework conditions for a successful foresight process.

Second Step: Research

In the second step, relevant empirical data on the future has to be researched. Different observation scopes focused on various aspects of the organisational environment are offered. Methods include observation techniques, for instance the STEEP observation scheme, and use a large number of data sources ranging from online and media research to Delphi surveys. The obtained data is the basis for the next process steps. The Foresight Toolbox contains four research methods:

  • Environmental Scanning: Examine environmental frameworks and drivers
  • Market Scanning: Examine customer needs and market trends
  • Context Scanning: Examine the immediate context of product use
  • Competition Scanning: Examine strategies and changes concerning competitors

Third Step: Analysis

The analysis stage aims to transform the obtained data into future-relevant information. The interpretation process is framed by four different business-related categories. Analysis aims to achieve a basic understanding of trends, drivers and shaping factors concerning future business development. It also gives an insight into potential impacts and uncertainties as well as into the constellation of relevant actors that have an influence on future development. The Foresight Toolbox offers the following analysis methods:

  • Impact Analysis: Identify the most powerful factors
  • Uncertainty Analysis: Recognise incalculable future developments
  • Stakeholder Analysis: Detect the most influential actors and their strategies
  • Trend Analysis: Understand the signs and drivers of change

Fourth Step: Projection

Projections are used to transform analysis results into concrete constructions of the future. The proposed methods vary in their level of concretisation, from practice-oriented to more abstract approaches to different futures. Being aware that the projection step is at the methodological heart of scientific foresight practice, the Foresight Toolbox has been designed to translate science-based approaches and make them relevant and understandable for SMEs. According to the specific application context, the methods refer to normative or descriptive aspects of future construction. The Foresight Toolbox contains five projection methods:

  • Scenario Technique: Develop alternative visions of the future
  • Roadmapping: Map milestones of future developments
  • Trend Extrapolation: Describe predictable future developments
  • Visioning: Develop desirable futures and define objectives
  • Backcasting: Retrace the path to a desirable future

Fifth Step: Implication

The final process stage is (ideally) closely linked to the first step of defining aims and closes the circle. Here, the results and gathered findings have to be applied, implemented and translated into strategic decisions, innovations or organisational change processes. The four implication methods include practical tools for decision-making and the internal communication of results:

  • Strategy Development: Identify options and determine the best strategy
  • Development of Product Ideas: Create and select innovative ideas
  • Portfolio Development: Make own areas of business future-proof
  • Assessment of Market Potentials: Describe future markets and assess their volume

State of Research

The research project is still in progress. This brief is only able to provide a short overview of the interim results of our quantitative and qualitative research.

800 Participants So Far

Between July 2009 (when the platform went online) and February 2010, some 800 participants used the Foresight Toolbox. A majority downloaded selected individual methods. In addition, some 180 completed foresight processes were saved.

An evaluation and analysis of user habits, stored processes, popularity of individual methods and tools and focus group-related priorities will follow in February or March 2010.

Comparative Study Based on Qualitative Interviews and Case Studies

The ten qualitative interviews were conducted between November 2009 and January 2010. In addition to the case studies of each participating SME, typical features, characteristics and significant variations were analysed in a comparative study based on the factors size and industry. Please find below a brief outline of the comparative study.

Size and Industry Matter

In the following, we present preliminary results from the study. To put it most concisely, the organisational features ‘business size’ and ‘type of industry’ make a difference. We have organized our brief summary of how size and industry affect foresight activities along six factors: foresight relevance, time horizon, objectives and perspective, knowledge sources, securing strategic decisions and implementation of foresight results.

Size Makes a Difference

Strategic Planning vs. Ad Hoc Decision-making

Foresight relevance – Regardless of business size, all decision-makers consider strategic planning to be very relevant. Exact definitions of strategy, however, differ. Larger enterprises may specify objectives and goals for strategic work, smaller firms more often act under the requirements of the situation.

Time horizon – The time horizon of foresight and strategic planning increases in line with organisation size.

Consideration of Non-economic Factors Grows with Size

Objectives and perspective – All businesses focus on the economic aspects of their environment. Larger enterprises are more likely to also include more secondary aspects in their observation scheme. Social development, demographic change and political and legal frameworks acquire special relevance for enterprises that participate in transnational business networks.

Internal Sources and Social Networks

Most Important Knowledge Sources

Knowledge sources – Independent of size, all participants use internal knowledge from all hierarchy levels as the most important knowledge source for their future-oriented work. Some of the larger firms already have experience with bringing in different forms of external consulting.

For all participants, the most important data comes from publicly available sources (general or business media) and formal or informal social networks.

Decision-making Based on Personal Experience

Securing Strategic Decisions – Only some larger SMEs have a developed monitoring system or access to continuous foresight updates. Most of the participating decision-makers rely on personal experience or even intuition or “gut feeling”. Only a minority of SMEs systematically have alternative options in place in the event of strategic failure.

Foresight Characterised by Conserving

Resources and Short-term Implementation

Implementation of foresight results – Foresight in the context of SMEs is mainly characterised by conserving financial and personal resources and short-term implementation. Short decision-making processes make it possible to transform strategic positions efficiently into action. However, smaller enterprises are greatly limited with regard to changing management processes.

Manufacturing Has an Edge over Service and Retail Industry in Use of Foresight

Foresight More Advanced

Foresight relevance – SMEs have a large variety of foresight approaches. In general, businesses in the manufacturing sector have a longer tradition and a more advanced approach to systematic future-oriented work than service or retail enterprises.

Time horizon – Machine building companies, in particular, show a higher tendency for long-term strategic planning. Service enterprises often set time perspectives according to their projects’ time horizon. Due to the SMEs’ specific short-term strategies, most decision-makers emphasise the importance of anticipating disruptive events or breaks in long-term market developments.

Broader Scope of Factors Considered

Objectives and perspective – Businesses show a comparable level of systematisation across all sectors. That said, manufacturing companies tend to see themselves as active parts of the entire value chain. Hence, their observation patterns differ in that more secondary factors are included.

More Systematic in Utilizing Internal Knowledge Sources

Knowledge sources – Here, manufacturing companies also show a more systematic approach to using internal knowledge sources. Some have developed pay and incentive systems for product innovations or innovative technological solutions. In the service and retail sector, where problem-solving skills are used in personal interaction, knowledge is limited to individuals.

Coping with Uncertainty Easier for Manufacturing

Securing Strategic Decisions – Securing is defined as the key problem of foresight-based decision-making. Foresight methods in the SME context aim to reduce uncertainty to manageable levels. Small firms in the service sector argue that strategic work has to be measured by future reality and consider this a criticism of foresight efficiency. Decision-makers from manufacturing enterprises find it easier to accept the fact of an unknown future.

Implementation Varies with Corporate Culture

Implementation of foresight results – Regardless of industry, structures and routines for implementation and internal communication vary according to corporate culture.

Authors: Beate Schulz-Montag                  schulz@z-punkt.de

Kai Jannek                                jannek@z-punkt.de

Tim Volkmann                          volkmann@z-punkt.de    

            Sponsors: Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)

Project management: VDI/VDE Innovation + Technik GmbH

Type: Publicly funded project within the framework of “Innovations- und Technikanalyse”
Organizer: Z_punkt GmbH The Foresight Company
Duration: 08/2008 – 03/2010 Budget: ca. 140,000 € Time Horizon: N/A Date of Brief: Dec. 2010

 

Download EFP Brief No. 169: Foresight Toolbox for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises

Sources and References

www.zukunft-im-mittelstand.de

EFP Brief No. 164: FinnSight 2015 – A National Joint Foresight Exercise

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

In 2005, the Finnish government took a decision in principle on the development of a national strategy. This decision spurred the two main funding agencies – the Academy of Finland and the Finnish Funding Agency for Technology and Innovation (Tekes) – to carry out FinnSight 2015, a joint foresight exercise that would provide inputs to this strategy, foster collaboration between these funding agencies and promote foresight and innovation activities at large. Towards these objectives, FinnSight 2015 engaged ten expert panels to identify key driving forces and characterized focus areas of competences, assisted by extensive deployment of Internet-based tools for collaborative work and intensive deliberations at facilitated workshops.

EFP_Brief_No._164_FinnSight_2015

EFP Brief No. 162: Greek National Technology Foresight Programme Perceived Impacts and Success Factors

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The brief presents findings about perceived impacts and success factors of the Greek National Technology Foresight Programme. The Greek National Technology Foresight Programme itself was described in detail in EFMN Brief No. 12. The main aim of the programme was to develop a set of key guidelines to assist the central administration in designing the national research and innovation policy, on the one hand, and the business world in its strategy planning, on the other.

EFP Brief No. 162_Greek National Technology Foresight

EFP Brief No. 154: Looking Forward in the ICT and Media Industry – Technological and Market Developments

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

The project was an activity within the framework contract between the European Parliament and ETAG, the European Technology Assessment Group, to carry out TA studies on behalf of the Parliament’s STOA Panel in view of the growing importance of a European science and technology policy. The purpose of this particular project was to identify current and expected technological and market developments in the field of ICT with an impact on the media industry and to indicate regulatory challenges and requirements stemming from the anticipated changes. The main target group are the Members of the European Parliament; the wider addressee is the interested public.

EFMN Brief No. 154_ICT and Media Industry

EFP Brief No. 147: ERoSC – The Socio-economic Impact of Emerging Social Computing Applications

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

ERoSC is an exploratory research project that aims at studying the socio-economic impact of emerging social computing applications. The exploratory research scheme of the European Commission Joint Research Centre’s Institute for Prospective Studies (IPTS) is an internal instrument aimed at building up competence in strategically relevant scientific fields. The ERoSC project has been awarded as the IPTS 2007  Exploratory Research project. Its purpose is to identify and discuss current and future socio-economic implications of social computing and to identify policy options for Europe.

A Multi-faceted Approach to Socioeconomic Impacts of Social Computing in European Context

In less than five years, social computing (SC), that is, digital applications that enable interaction and collaboration, whereby users are participants (co-creators not end-users) and interconnected (the network as a collective resource), has shifted from a niche activity into a phenomenon engaging tens of millions of Internet users. Nevertheless, there is very little research and evidence on the socio-economic impact of SC in the European context.

Set in this context, the main objectives of ERoSC can be summarised as follows:

  • explore the socio-economic impact of social computing;
  • assess the sustainability of social computing applications (business models and viability);
  • assess the position of Europe in this field; and identify options for EU research and innovation policies.

Technological innovations have been scanned for available supply and demand data. Usage and the impact of SC in specific sectors have been explored using different analytical techniques, such as case studies, comparison of existing data and in-depth interviews. Finally, an expert workshop was conducted to validate the data. Peer reviewing by experts was used as an additional quality management tool.

Measuring and Analysing Social Computing

Social Computing is entering into a new stage of development. Blogging, photo- and video-sharing, social networking and social gaming have been adopted by some half of Internet users worldwide (around 25% in Europe), and high levels of growth in Europe have been reported in areas like blogging or online video. New social platforms are emerging that enable people to create more and richer content, which in turn generates network effects.

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Social computing activates new market segments, for instance women or ‘silver surfers’ (people aged 55 or older).

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People interplay with technology in many different ways. The majority of users tend to be ‘free riders’, that is, using SC content created by a ‘thin’ layer of core users (the ‘creators’). In Europe, roughly a third of Internet users also make use of SC contents, 10% provide feedback, 10% share contents, and only around 3% are those ‘creators’. Moreover, the intensity of use of SC applications is very diverse, for instance, people can be at the same time ‘creators’ and ‘free riders’.

Mobile – the ‘Next Frontier’?

A lot of innovation is taking place around mobile social computing. Mobile social computing, however, does not mirror the user participation of desktop-based social computing. Only a small user base has so far adopted mobile social computing, though there is evidence of growth. In the EU (selected countries), almost a third of mobile subscribers upload videos or photos on video/photo-sharing sites, with only 2.6 % accessing a social network via their mobile phones and 5.5 % watching video online. Teens are the most active users of mobile social computing.

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The ‘Tag Cloud’ of Social Impacts of Social Computing

Social computing allows for more room for personal and social creativity, and it is a new means to develop and construct personal identities. Moreover, identity is now transformed by technology.

The ‘always–on’ trend raises concerns about this new form of dependency, where people need to first communicate with others to feel their own feelings. The networks of virtual ‘friends’ becomes as significant as ‘real’ life ones, evolving into new forms of social capital that is, social computing will encourage social networks that are well connected (bonding social capital) rather than bridge between different networks (bridging social capital). The proximity of celebrity condition gets closer (‘my 15-minutes of fame’).

Social computing allows for enhanced social participation, for instance in politics, and better informed citizens for different roles in society, such as as a voter, learner, patient or consumer.

At the same time, the dynamics of privacy is changing.  Personal data recorded in databases are ‘perfectly transferable in space,[and] indefinitely preservable in time’ (Poster 1995). New social threats are emerging such as stalking and bullying or chains of suicides.

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Economic Impacts of Social Computing

Social computing provides sources of revenue both for users and platforms. More important, social computing is a driver for competitiveness. Impacts can be observed on industry itself, for example media or ICT industry, but also on other industries using SC. More targeted marketing and user research, both based on user profiles and content interests, are opening new channels to markets. New employment possibilities are emerging through social networks and new opportunities to utilize user innovations for product development or as an interface between companies and customers and for more efficient work processes.

In order to realize the potential positive impact, there is a need to meet a number of challenges of productivity, security and training.

Policy Options for Europe

In order to put forward informed policy implications, proper measurements are needed. There is a lack, however, of internationally comparable data on social computing from national statistical sources, while data is available coming mostly from non-official sources. This points to the need for better and systematic measurements and internationally comparable data. Improvement of official statistics (e.g. OECD, Eurostat) by adding categories of Internet use by activity questions to surveys could be one possible avenue for meeting this need.

The implications of social computing for policies for education, health, inclusion and for the policy making process itself should be considered. In addition, policies could be developed to provide the necessary framework conditions that would favour people and companies (in particular start-ups) staying in Europe, including promoting entrepreneurship and dealing with intellectual property rights (IPR) and copyright issues that might prevent the further development of SC.

There is also room for policy activities to address social cohesion and exclusion of groups of people such as elderly and migrants, to support democratisation and eParticipation processes.

Another European strength lies with mobile technologies and mobile connectivity, together with a marked lead in mobile devices, hence providing a possibility for Europe to further develop relevant services, applications and platforms for mobile 2.0.  An opportunity for Europe would also be to provide better access to public data, as such data are typically used in SC applications (e.g. mash-ups) to provide added value. Opening public data sets to allow citizens to create their own services could provide a boost to the use of SC, providing privacy and security concerns are adequately accommodated.

Authors: Corina Pascu                        corina.pascu@ec.europa.eu
Sponsors: European Commission,  The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies JRC-IPTS
Type: Exploratory research (internal research scheme)
Organizer: European Commission, The Institute for Prospective Technological Studies JRC-IPTS, IS Unit   Contact: Yves Punie            yves.punie@ec.europa.eu
Duration: 2007 – 2008
Budget: n.a.
Time Horizon: 2010
Date of Brief: June 2008

Download: EFMN Brief No. 147_ERoSC – Social Computing

Sources and References

http://is.jrc.ec.europa.eu/ is the main website where all reports and other information will be made available.

Pascu, C. (2008), ‘An Empirical Analysis of the Creation, Use and Adoption of Social Computing Applications’, EUR 23415, IPTS Report, European Commission,at http://ftp.jrc.es/EURdoc/JRC46431.pdf

Ala-Mutka, K. (2008), “Social Computing: the case of collaborative content”, IPTS Report, European Commission, forthcoming.

Cachia, R. (2008), “Social Computing: the case Social networking”, IPTS Report, European Commission, forthcoming.

Punie, Y., (Ed.) (2008) “The Socio-Economic Impact of Social Computing: Proceedings of a validation and policy options

EFP Brief No. 136: Policy Options for the Improvement of the European Patent System

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

The purpose of the project “Policy options for the improvement of the European patent system” has been to assess whether the European patent system adequately fulfils its purpose of stimulating social and economic welfare through the enhancement of technological innovation, and to investigate if improvements can be made. It was commissioned by The European Parliament’s STOA panel (Scientific Technology Options Assessment) from the European Technology Assessment Group (ETAG) and carried out on its behalf by the Danish Board of Technology. The main target group, therefore, was the Members of the European Parliament.

The European Patent System under Pressure

Since October 2005, a group of five European scientific institutes (ETAG) has been providing scientific services for the European Parliament’s STOA panel on social, environmental and economic aspects of new technological and scientific developments. Inspired by a report from the Danish Board of Technology about the future of the European patent system, the STOA panel commissioned an assessment of the current strengthening and expansion of the patent system in order to identify key challenges and ways of dealing with them.

Combined Expertises

A working group was first established, comprising three legal and three economic experts, hands-on experience from the European Patent Office (EPO) as well as a rapporteur. This combination of expertise has been applied in order to bring together insights from these two disciplines, both of which are central to current debates about the workings of the patent system but whose knowledge is rarely combined in this way. The task of the group was to write a report with the following objectives:

  • to analyse the historical and present impact of the European patent system on innovation and diffusion of knowledge,
  •  to identify current key trends in the patent system,
  • to identify the challenges these trends present,
  • to point to policy options that may meet these challenges and, in the process, improve the functioning of the European patent system.

The analysis provided by the report and the policy options presented as a result draw on existing knowledge from legal and economic experts as well as on input from various stakeholders and peer reviewers. The group met five times to discuss the report contents and drafts prepared by the rapporteur assigned to the project. In between these meetings, various drafts of the report were exchanged and commented on through email communication.
A preliminary draft of the background analysis was presented and debated with MEP’s at a workshop at the European Parliament in November 2006. In attendance were 12 independent and more patent experts and stakeholders, all invited to present policy options and debate them with MEP’s and the working group. These contributions played an important role in compiling the report and writing the final draft. Furthermore, an interim version of the full report was commented on by several workshop speakers and peer reviewed by economic and legal experts. A final draft of the report was presented and debated at the European Parliament in June 2007 with MEP’s and various stakeholders.

Balancing Inventor’s Rights  with Societal Concerns

The fundamental premise of the report is that the primary purpose of a patent system is to enhance social and economic welfare by stimulating innovation and diffusion of knowledge. Balancing the exclusive rights of a patent granted to inventors with the overall societal concern of wider economic growth and social welfare is fundamental, because the reward offered to inventors in the form of exclusive rights provides the incentive to innovate, but if the reward is too excessive, it might hamper innovation and the distribution of knowledge. The trends and challenges identified by the working group all relate more or less to this balance.

Important Trends Influencing the Balance  of the European Patent System

1. Increasing number of inventions

New windows of opportunity have been opened by R&D in a number of technical fields, which individuals, firms and other organizations seize upon in order to produce an increasing numbers of inventions, which then require patent protection. Technological fields such as electrical engineering/electronics and biotechnology/pharmaceuticals have contributed greatly to this trend. Also nanotechnologies are set to repeat the explosion formerly seen by biotechnologies, which have made patent protection available in fields not previously appearing on the patenting scene.

2. New inventors

New inventors not formerly involved in patenting, such as universities, are appearing. This is the result of science, especially academic science, emerging as a fertile ground for inventions. Also countries that did not use the patent system before now tend to use the patent system more. For example the number of patent applications from China and India are growing fast and seem on the verge of catching up with the Korean patent office, where the patent portfolio of applicants is already as large as that of well-established European countries.

 3. Newly patentable subject matters

Science-based inventions contribute to the growth of patent applications to the extent that many of the new subject matters have been added in order to make room for science-based inventions. Most notably, this has occurred with gene-related patents.

4. Increasing demand for patent protection

Firms and other organizations that engage in inventive activity nowadays have a higher propensity than before to look for patent protection for “assertive” and “defensive” reasons. The explanation for this is that companies and not-for-profit research institutions are often worried about the possibility of other organizations ending up monopolizing a new technological field through patenting and, as a result, pushing them to pursue strategic patenting activities to guard against that potential monopoly.

Challenges Facing the  European Patent System

From the assessment of key trends, the report identifies a range of challenges:

1. Coping with a rapidly increasing demand for patent rights without compromising the quality

Overall, the total number of patent applications is putting strain on the system and causing problems for patent examiners. Potentially, this pressure will mount further as, for instance, the increase in the number of countries engaged in inventive activities means the filing of more applications at the EPO. As a result, although it is difficult to document, the quality of patents is reported to be declining. The main challenge is to prevent this from happening within the European patent system.

2. Ensuring that too broad patents are not issued in Europe

The speed at which new subject matter and science-based inventions are introduced in the patent system makes it harder to assess the patentability requirements, especially the state of the art, and thus to determine whether the claimed invention is novel and involves an inventive step. An overall result is that too broad patents are occasionally granted and one of the effects is that innovation is hampered as other inventors are unable to work around the patents. The main challenge is to ensure that too broad patents are not issued within the European patent system.

3.  Alleviating the effects of patent thickets

The growth of patents in complex technologies, which require the assemblage of a multitude of inventions to move forward, has in certain areas, such as electronics, resulted in a particular form of patent behaviour. Defensive and strategic patenting has, for instance, resulted in patent thickets in some sectors, the consequences of which are generally undesirable in terms of creating too many, possibly overlapping patents, which can crowd a technological field and make it difficult and costly to navigate through. The main challenge is to alleviate the effects of patent thickets within the European patent system.

4.  Freeing company resources from trading patent rights and licensing

More companies are patenting and the effect is that a greater number of companies have to spend more time and effort on trading rights and licensing. Such resources may have been better used to innovate thus the main challenge is to ensure that companies are not forced to deal excessively with patenting and licensing and are ‘freed up’ to concentrate more on innovation.

5. Ensuring an increased level of transparency and political engagement

Increased interest in the system has resulted partly from the trends about emergent technologies and new inventors appearing and partly from a more general shift in emphasis toward issues of “governance”. The main challenge is to ensure that the European patent system is as transparent as possible and that the involvement of more experts, politicians and stakeholders in the future development of the system is secured.

Working Group Recommendations

The working group concludes that, left unchecked, the trends identified will have a damaging effect on the European patent system and may result in a negative impact on economic and social welfare. The working group developed the following policy options to meet the challenges:

1.Insertion of the economic mission of the patent system in the European Patent Convention

The recommendation on insertion of the economic mission of the patent system in the European Patent Convention involves the introduction of a preamble into the legislation. This insertion would state in clear terms what the purpose of the legislation is, namely to promote social and economic welfare. A suggestion for the wording of the preamble is as follows:

“The granting of patents serves the purpose of enhancing social and economic welfare by means of encouraging inventions and their diffusion. The protection provided by patents should be sufficient to ensure proper incentives to inventors. This should imply that patents should be granted in a proportionate and transparent manner, so as to ensure legal certainty”.

The preamble should be placed in the European Patent Convention and if the European Union is able to come forward with a community patent that same preamble is proposed to be included in the community patent legislation. The effect of a preamble with regard to, for instance, emerging technologies would be to guide legislators and to ensure the legislator considers whether the application of the patent system to an emergent technology makes sense from the point of view of the economic mission of the patent system.

2.Enhancing governance within the European patent system

The policy options under the governance heading are concerned with issues such as transparency and participation in activities related to the European patent system. One of the main challenges to be met regarding the debate about the future of the European patent system is ensuring an increased level of transparency and political accountability. First and foremost, this involves strengthening the role and expertise of the European Parliament in this field, given that it is a critical participant in these sorts of discussions. The other main challenge is trying to accommodate the rise in public interest and wish for involvement of civil society at large in matters concerning the European patent system.

The first recommendation of the working group is to establish a standing committee within the European Parliament that is dedicated to patent matters in order to formalize an internal structure within the European Parliament that will enhance its awareness of European patent issues.

The second recommendation is to establish an external advisory body to examine the impact of the European patent system on the innovative sector and other sets of interests in society. The findings it gathers and views it expresses will be part of a formalized dialogue with the European Parliament and, specifically, its standing committee on patents. This sort of body would be composed of experts in law, economics and patent-related matters. An involvement of various practitioners and stakeholders, such as consumer groups, is highly recommended.

Finally, the working group recommends the establishment of a more participatory environment within the EPO and the Commission by including more stakeholders, scientists, NGOs and consumers in the ongoing debate about the design of the European patent system.

3.Improving quality aspects in regard to patentability  standards and patent granting procedures

In order to strengthen the patent system and create stronger patents, the report recommends to look at two aspects: (i) the way in which patent offices apply the given standards for patentability and (ii) raising the standards themselves. Looking at the standards concerns the question of what is an invention and when is it valuable enough to be granted a patent. The report suggests taking a closer look at the concept of ‘inventive step’ to see if it is still fulfilling the function it is meant to have and concentrate on the concept of ‘who is a person skilled in the art’. Specific suggestions are listed in the report and include e.g. the introduction of quality management mechanisms in order to promote and monitor that consistent and predictable decisions are taken and to increase the awareness about the fact that patent offices are there to serve the general public interest and not the specific interests of applicants.

4.Dealing with emerging technologies

The patenting of emerging technologies gives rise to special concerns about patent quality in regard to both the patent system and the individual patent. The quality problem at the system level is about setting the standards for patents and deciding on what is going to be considered patentable subject matter and what is not. At the executive level (i.e. the EPO), the quality problem relating to emerging technologies deals with applications of patent standards in individual cases. The special problems in emerging technologies in this regard are that prior art can be limited and hard to find for an examiner. In order to avoid these sorts of problems, the report suggests bolstering the executive level by allocating additional resources to EPO examiners to better assess prior art and avoid too broad patents being granted, and finally, to ensure ongoing deliberations between politicians, experts and stakeholders on what is patentable and what is not.

5. Increasing access to patented inventions

Patents that crowd the market create a patent thicket that makes it difficult for an inventor to enter the market. In order to overcome a patent thicket, negotiations will have to be started with each and every patent owner in order to obtain a legitimate access to the patents and to obtain the necessary licences. The report suggests two different measures, which would facilitate access to patented technology. One is the license of right, which is a legal mechanism by which a patent holder voluntarily chooses to give general access to anyone willing to pay a certain license. The other possibility suggested is to facilitate access to a web of patents by the establishment of collective rights management models such as patent pools and clearinghouses. The report recommends further investigation of these models, especially in view of current EU competition law.

6.Facilitating defensive publications

The report recommends that the European patent system be geared more towards an increased use of publication of inventions rather than patenting per se. Both companies and not-forprofit research institutions are often worried about the possibility that other organizations will end up monopolizing a new technological field through patenting, which may push them to pursue strategic patenting activities to guard against that potential monopoly. But strategic patenting is a costly way to prevent monopolization. The publication of scientific results may achieve the same effect for free. Such a process is referred to as “defensive publishing”. And, in fact, firms for a long time have used defensive publishing in industry areas such as software. In cases when an inventor decides to defensively publish rather than patent, he gives up the potential of exclusive rights. In return though, a freedom to use the invention is secured for that inventor, and for others. For this kind of defensive publishing to be effective, publications must be made readily accessible to examiners so as to provide a helpful additional source of information, including the prior art. It is recommended therefore, that measures be introduced to facilitate the practice of defensive publications within the European patent system.

Authors: Bjørn Bedsted                                         bb@tekno.dk

Signe Skibstrup Blach                            ssb@tekno.dk

Sponsors: The European Parliament’s panel for Scientific Technology Options Assessment (STOA)
Type: A European technology assessment/foresight project with the purpose of proposing policy options for the improvement of the European patent system.
Organizer: The Danish Board of Technology/ETAG      www.tekno.dk and www.itas.fzk.de/etag Contacts: Bjørn Bedsted, Signe Skibstrup Blach (e-mail see above)
Duration: 2006-2007
Budget: 135,000€
Time Horizon: 2007
Date of Brief: February. 2008

 

Download: EFMN Brief No. 136_ European Patent System

Sources and References

The Danish Board of Technology: www.tekno.dk STOA (the report is available for download under “final studies”): www.europarl.europa.eu/stoa/default_en.htm ETAG: www.itas.fzk.de/etag/
The members of the group were: Mr. Robin COWAN, Professor of economics, BETA, Université Louis Pasteur and UNUMERIT, Universteit Maastricht; Mr. Wim Van der EIJK, Principal Director International Legal Affairs and Patent law, EPO; Mr. Francesco LISSONI, Professor of Applied Economics, University of Brescia; Mr. Peter LOTZ, Head of Department of Industrial Economics and Strategy, Copenhagen Business School; Mrs. Geertrui Van OVERWALLE, Professor of IP Law, University of Leuven, Belgium; Mr. Jens SCHOVSBO, Professor, University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Law and Mr. Matthew ELSMORE (rapporteur), Assistant Professor, Aarhus Business School-University of Aarhus.
The project and the report were coordinated by Bjørn Bedsted, project manager with the Danish Board of Technology. The project was supervised by Mr. Philippe Busquin, MEP and Chairman of the STOA panel.