Memorandum submitted by British Telecommunications
BT plc is probably the largest user of technology
in the field of engineering and physical sciences in the UK. Its
position as a major player on the global scene will also ensure
its continuing demand for new and innovative technology.
BT plc had a turnover of £14.9 billion
in the fiscal year 1996-97 and employed 128,000 people. Around
4 per cent of turnover is currently assigned to R&D in the
areas innovative services and systems, this equates to nearly
6,000 people. In addition BT is spending £2 billion annually
in ensuring that its network is state of the art. Of the 4 per
cent spent on R&D some 11 per cent of that is centrally funded
and dedicated to the long term future of the company. Nearly £5
million is spent externally with academic institutions world wide,
however the majority are in the UK.
BT is a major user of technology operating in
the market sector that is showing probably the largest changes
of any industrial sector at the current time. The convergence
of telecommunications, computing and content ensures that technological
innovation, and perhaps more importantly, an understanding of
how to utilise innovative technology to good effect, will be an
essential ingredient in this business for the foreseeable future.
All of this guarantees that BT has to be at the leading edge of
innovation to protect its market share in core business whilst
allowing it to expand into new markets both in the UK and globally.
BT has an excellent record of innovation ranging
from the introduction of monomode fibre, so enabling the communications
revolution, to the first large scale trial of interactive services
to homes and businesses. The capability to innovate and be at
the leading edge of technology has been achieved through an internal
process known as "Foresight" where we have coupled business
objectives, R&D ideas and innovation. In this process, the
marketing and the research arms of the business are working ever
closer. This has placed the company at the forefront of R&D
innovation globally. We have concentrated on core business whilst
working in partnership with our key suppliers to deliver more
generic solutions. Academia has also played a key part in our
strategy by supplying people with new competencies to both complement
and refresh the intellectual assets of the company. Similarly
we have strategic collaborations on both national and international
funded research. Our reasoning can be summarised as "We compete
to grow our market share. We collaborate to grow the market".
The Industrial Application of Government-funded
Researechwe are supportive of government-funded research
schemes, eg LINK, particularly in areas of technology that can
be considered as embryonic. We support strong linkage between
such schemes and the Foresight programme and would welcome greater
emphasis on funding activities where foresight has identified
particular weaknesses in the UK science and technology base.
In some senses, the ability to apply research
which has been funded by the Research Councils is limited by the
visibility of who is doing what research. The development of a
database similar to the Regard Database developed under the auspices
of ESRC together with the provision of a public www based interface
would be a welcome step towards the public dissemination of technological
information and should be adopted by the other councils.
Roles of Government Laboratories and Independent
Research Organisationswith an increasingly complex
and rapidly moving technology sector such as telecommunications
it is becoming increasingly difficult to perform all R&D in
house. Indeed it can be argued that this is also not desirable
in the world of alliances and mergers. BT has always contracted
out, wherever possible, non-core research and development to independent
research organisations, e.g. ERA. We have made little use of government
laboratories as they have tended not to operate in our technology
sector. However, with the "privatisation" of DERA then
this position is beginning to changealbeit slowly.
Intellectual Property Rights and PatentingBT
has always adopted the policy of patenting and protecting its
own IPR wherever possible mainly as a defensive mechanism. We
have taken a low risk strategy to licensing out IPR. With suppliers,
both academic and industrial, we have adopted a more flexible
attitude, only insisting on rights to exploitation. We believe
that in the academic sector we pay the full costs of the research
in order to maintain the rights to IPR if we believe the work
to be core to our business. However, in most cases we are sensitive
to the needs of universities to publish the results of their work.
A problem which can arise is the conflict between
the need for academics to publish in a timely manner and the need
for confidentiality to be retained prior to a patent application
being made. There needs to be greater recognition of patents within
the assessment of academic performance as an indicator of worthwhile
and quality research rather than patents being viewed more as
a hindrance to publication of a good paper.
Financial support for New EnterprisesThis
has historically not been a large part of BT's portfolio, however,
in the new market place we see this as an increasingly important
part of our armoury in acquiring new technology. In more general
terms we do not believe that financial support for new enterprises
is as readily available as it is in the US. Until the UK can instil
the culture of entrepreneurial risk taking then it is not going
to have the effect the UK government desires.
Role of the Foresight ProgrammeBT
is very supportive of the Foresight Programme as conceived by
the UK Government and we are pleased to see that it models our
own internal process. BT also has a number of people that are
involved with relevant panels. We have replied to the recent request
for comments and suggestions as to how the next wave of Foresight
should proceed. If you require a copy of this document then please
contact Dr Graham Davies, Research Programme Manager, BT Labs,
Martlesham Heath, Ipswich, IP5 3RE, Tel. 01473 646883, email@example.com.
The Role of EPSRC in Technology TransferWe
believe that to consider the role of EPSRC in terms of technology
transfer alone is a misconception. BT is involved with EPSRC primarily
for the skills and competencies that academic researchers can
bring to the company. The use of academia for the generation of
new products and services is not in our opinion their major role
although we have used them in some small part for that purpose.
Our experience is that this has to be managed in a very focused
manner in order to achieve quality deliverables in acceptable
Recommendations of the Science & Technology
CommitteeIt has become apparent that recent government
involvement and encouragement towards implementing the recommendations
of the Science and Technology Committee are now beginning to bare
fruit in the technology community at large. Through the Foresight
programme the networks between academia, industry and central
government have gained in strength. There is a general willingness
amongst all parties to become involved in the process and to ensure
that implementation of the foresight recommendations are made
for the good of the UK both in terms of wealth generation and
improvements to the quality of life.
Genuine partnerships have evolved and it is
recognised that the Research Councils have made great strides
to take on board the message of relevance in their programmes
without sacrificing the innovation that has been their strength.
In particular for BT we have been pleased and benefited from the
restructuring of EPSRC so as to ensure that IT and Communications
now have a high priority amongst the panels. The shortage of skills
in this important technology area is now being addressed.