OECD calls for increased public investment in R&D

19 Oct 15

Governments should step up their investment in research and development, particularly cutting-edge technologies, as cuts threaten to destabilise science and research systems in many advanced economies, the OECD has warned.

While there has been some increase in total R&D spending in OECD countries in recent years, the OECD Science, Technology and Industry Scoreboard 2015 report found this is largely driven by business R&D, while R&D funded or performed by governments has declined or flattened in many advanced economies since 2010.

Presenting the report in Daejeon, Korea, OECD secretary general Angel Gurría said: “Public funding has underpinned many of the technologies driving growth today, from the digital economy to genomics. We must continue to lay the technological foundations for new inventions and solutions to global challenges like climate change and must not let investment in long-term research wane.”

The OECD said new, “disruptive” technologies would displace existing processes and revolutionise industry, healthcare and information and communication technologies. While in many countries investment is waning, countries like Korea have made “great strides” in these fields.

Korea has quadrupled its public R&D spending in real terms since 2000, with investment reaching 1.2% of the country’s GDP in 2014. Gurría said this makes Korea “well-placed to be part of the next production revolution” as it helps drive the development of frontier technologies, alongside the US and Japan who are also leading the charge.

In its breakdown of patent data, the report found that the US, Japan and Korea account for over 65% of all patent families in advanced materials, health and new ICT-related technologies filed in Europe and the US in 2010-12.

The report called on countries whose long-term R&D investment is falling or flat-lining to increase investment, and underscored the need for governments to target spending at more open-ended, “basic research” that can spawn brand new findings and inventions relevant to a range of potential users.

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