Business Week has a piece that ran yesterday on TechNet’s annual innovation summit held earlier this week. The summit brings together TechNet’s CEOs and include a few sessions taped with PBS commentator Charlie Rose. I went to the summit last year and was impressed by the event but a little disappointed that the number one focus on the agenda appeared to be the issue of expensing stock options (obviously a big concern to silicon valley CEOs). This year, it appears there’s been a lot more emphasis on R&D funding and competitiveness issues, which is a very good thing. Here’s a snippet:
Tech leaders fretted that falling R&D spending could cripple the U.S. in the future. “I’m very worried, as we cut back on our R&D, that we will fall behind the rest of the world,” said [John] Chambers[, CEO of Cisco]. [Venture capitalist John] Doerr also lamented the lack of open-ended research at organizations like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which currently is more focused on specific programs.
Along the same lines, participants in the conference called for fewer limits on immigration. More stringent immigration limits, thanks to post-9/11 security concerns, are a big problem, said Doerr, because they’re cutting the U.S. off from foreign research and engineering talent: “Imagine innovation without [former Intel (INTC ) CEO] Andy Grove, without Jerry Yang, without [Google (GOOG ) co-founder] Sergey Brin.” Grove hails from Hungary, Yang from Taiwan, and Brin from Russia.
The result of immigration limits is that we’re losing more foreign-born people who get educated here, said Esther Dyson, editor of the tech newsletter Release 1.0. “Right now, we’re spending resources on people only to send them back to other countries,” she said. “They used to stay here.”
I have to say, one of the big reasons we’re getting any traction in the science advocacy community for our issues is because industry leaders are stepping up to the plate, using some of their valuable access to decision makers to deliver this important message.
The most recent positive result of that traction is Tuesday’s release of the House Democrats’ Innovation Agenda. Their proposal is chock full of good things, including proposals to:
- Add 100,000 new scientists, mathematicians, and engineers to America’s workforce in the next four years by providing scholarships, other financial assistance, and private sector opportunities to college students;
- Double federal funding for basic research and development in the physical sciences and promote public-private partnerships that will translate into ideas for marketable technologies;
- Create research “centers of excellence” across the country and modernize and make permanent the R&D tax credit;
- Guarantee that every American will have affordable access to broadband in within five years;
- Protect the intellectual property of American innovators worldwide.
Cameron Wilson has more on this on USACM’s Technology Policy blog, including a little equal time for the Republicans.
There aren’t many things to disagree with in the Democrats’ proposal — indeed, just about all the ideas proposed have strong bipartisan support. The only worrying aspect of this from my perspective is that it comes crafted as a partisan document. While I would enjoy nothing more than to have the two parties battle it out to show who can support these ideas more emphatically, there’s an equal risk (maybe more likely, given the current polarization) of creating a partisan divide where there needn’t be one (and there isn’t one now).
There are a couple of other bipartisan efforts in the embryonic state right now to enact many of these same goals. Sens. Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and John Ensign (R-NV) are working to put the finishing touches on legislation for introduction that would implement the recommendations of the Council on Competitiveness’ National Innovation Initiative; and Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) are moving to craft legislation in response to the recommendations contained in the recent National Academies Rising Above the Gathering Storm report (which we’ve detailed previously).
So I hope the Democrats get lots of well-deserved kudos for stating so explicitly the things they’re prepared to do to promote American innovation and competitiveness, and I hope it drive Congress generally towards being more supportive of efforts like the bipartisan ones noted above so we can see some real progress moving this agenda forward.