Technology transfer to the commercial
246. The private sector with interests in marine
science and technology is characterised by a sharp divide between
the large international companies operating in the energy fields,
for example, and the much smaller companies in the marine technology
area. The Association of Marine Scientific Industries told us
that the commercial marine science and technology market was predominantly
a niche market for specialised products and services, consisting
mainly of very small companies.
They estimated that there were "probably less than ten or
12 companies in the UK".
AMSI argued that "much of the effort to exploit government
funded technology has been inappropriate to the MST sector"
because of these characteristics.
In oral evidence Mr Burt from AMSI explained:
The financial mechanisms to make [technology
transfer] happen are poor, to say the least. There are very little
opportunities to get significant funding to pull through technology
to the market place. There are DTI schemes, there are NERC schemes,
but when we lay these alongside, for example, US schemes, then
I think the UK is poorly placed.
247. Mr Burt argued that the DTI schemes, even at
their most generous, "contribute very, very little, if anything,
as you enter production and bring products to a commercial realisation,
so there are significant overheads for the UK to have to recoup
once it starts to sell product".
Similar rules do not apply in other countries which leaves UK
companies at a commercial disadvantage. He also criticised current
technology transfer arrangements on the ground that "the
disadvantage with the current system is that, more often than
not, (a) there is no mechanism to enable early engagement between
industry and the centres of excellence, and (b) there are really
no formal funding mechanisms to take that through."
248. IMarEST agreed that much of the government effort
in technology transfer in this field had been wasted, finding
"many of the marine technology transfer offices set up by
and that "the current scheme which encourages and funds academics
to exploit their research and technology is often ineffective
and can even be damaging to existing businesses where unfair competition
may be the result".
Dr Rayner explained that IMarEST wanted more funding for existing
companies, rather than new spin-off companies, to foster the process
of creating a position in the global market.
He argued that, given the characteristics of the industry "companies
tend to specialise in a very narrow niche and what is really required
for small companies is helping them to exploit that niche on a
wider geographical basis and helping them to create new technologies
into those global niche markets".
NOAA in the US plays a much more active role in promoting the
marketing of technologies. This level of integrated support for
getting products to the international marketplace is missing in
249. EPSRC accepted that "If we are
developing technology and the UK is not making best use of it,
then that is a concern for all of us."
Dr Thompson of EPSRC told us that "Within the resources we
have, we work very hard to make sure that, where it is appropriate,
there are good contacts with companies, so certainly 40 per cent
of the research portfolio we support is collaboration with industry."
EPSRC is taking steps to address this by going directly to companies
and through intermediaries to make companies aware of the support
available. The Research Council has also just reorganised its
internal structures so that EPSRC have a defined point of contact
with every regional development agency in order to "jointly
promote companies working in the science base, as well as doing
lots of things on a national level working with the DTI."
One example of this closer collaboration is a joint NERC/EPSRC
project at NOCS, looking at sensors where there were three companies
EPSRC "hope that will shorten the innovation circle because
they are there watching over the shoulders of the academics. As
soon as they see something that they can go and take value and
make a new product from, they will be in there exploiting it."
However, EPSRC expenditure on marine technology is "less
than half a per cent" of their total budget.
250. NERC told us that it "encourages commercialisation
or other industrial application of its marine research and associated
technology", citing the example of the Blue Microbe Knowledge
Each NERC marine centre also engages in knowledge transfer, including
three (PML, SAMS and SMRU) which have their own commercial companies.
SAMS and PML both received funding from the then OSI in the last
round of the Public Sector Exploitation fund competition which
provides support for the commercialisation of research carried
out in public sector bodies.
On the other hand, IMarEST criticised the ending of the NERC Marine
and Freshwater Microbial Biodiversity programme in 2005 as leaving
"a potential gap in linkages between industry participants
and research providers".
The Institute argued that "A five year funding timescale
for such projects is unsuitable due to the lack of understanding
of new products (by both governments and potential users) and
the long lead times for screening, testing and development",
and called for the bioscience industry to receive continued support
to expand into marine research.
251. Not all of the products invented in academic
laboratories will be suitable for commercialisation. Mr Burt of
AMSI pointed out that "There are many, many technologies
being developed in marine science and technology centres in the
UK often for extreme applications. Very few of them are what I
would call commercial products or capable of being commercially
However, IMarEST recognised that "good ideas for exploitable
technologies do arise in academic and government labs", adding
that "ideally these labs should be encouraged to work in
partnership with industry to 'design for manufacture', so as to
make their inventions saleable."
There are a significant number of products which could be taken
on by the general market. We perceive a need to put more money
into marine sector and to increase effort in technology transfer.
We commend projects such as EPSRC's efforts to stimulate work
in sensor systems where Research Councils have identified a potential
gap in the market and moved to address it. We believe that there
is greater scope for such activity than has previously been explored
and recommend that the Research Councils pursue an active approach
to identify areas for technology development in the marine sector.
Technology and policy formulation
252. NERC told us that "Many of NERC's marine
science outputs find application in regulatory activities and
policy making, for example in fisheries, flood-control and environmental
Concerns were raised with us about access to knowledge by non-scientists
for policy formulation. For example, the JNCC argued that "accessing
research conclusions presents a major challenge" and called
for a series of improvements including "providing electronic
access to results, more effective communication of results, and
infrastructure provision for reviews on important topics; all
publicly-funded marine research data should be held electronically
to agreed standards and placed in the public domain; techniques
for assessing the degree of confidence of using scientific conclusions
to address policy and operational questions".
Dr Vincent of the JNCC argued further that "there needs to
be some better infrastructure in order to be able to collate information,
particularly on key policy issues, and make it more available
to the wider user." 
253. From the science side, the MBA felt in general
that "knowledge transfer from the science community to policy
advisors and to industry is not as strong and well-structured
as it could be", although the UK "does far better than
its European neighbours in transferring information from academic
and government scientists to policy makers".
It commended the MCCIP as an example of good practice.
This was supported by Natural England who praised the MCCIP approach
as "a mechanism that could be applied in other marine science
areas and in other fields,"
and by IMarEST.
254. There are divergent views on whether or not
the current findings of marine research are being taken up by
policymakers. We believe that there is an important role for
a marine agency to promote knowledge transfer from scientists
to policy formulation. This could include publishing data in an
appropriate format and promoting stakeholder engagement.
Industry and strategy
255. From the evidence before us, the UK appears
to be missing out on marine technology support. We hope that this
will now change with the increased awareness of the Research Councils
of the importance of knowledge transfer in general and the welcome
emphasis on technology development on Oceans 2025 in particular.
One important aspect of this will be closer involvement of industry
in marine science. It was a cause of regret to many that the CCMST's
proposal to include industry in the new co-ordinating body for
marine science and technology was rejected by the Government in
the early 1990s. IMarEST emphasised to this inquiry that in improving
co-ordination of research funding and strategy, "It is
essential that industry is also engaged with government and the
Dr Burt of AMSI agreed that a cross-departmental agency would
need "to build very clear bridges where industry can be incorporated
into that because there may well be cases where industry needs
to engage early in some of these programmes".
We believe that the development of marine technology should
be an important component of the work of new marine body which
should ensure that it engages with industry in developing its
strategy and plan of work.
485 POST Report 128, Marine Science and Technology,
July 1999 Back
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