Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
WEDNESDAY 30 JANUARY 2008
BRUCE FRSE AND
Q180 Dr Gibson: I think there is
a lot of difference between different subjects. Cancer has a lot
more going for it in terms of the work that is gone into it and
that the people who are attracted into it are really bright and
have come along as things happen and that may happen in your field
of course. I want to ask about the pull through. We hear about
pull through all the time. What do we have to do to pull it through?
What are we missing?
Professor Bruce: I have seen a
little bit of this at firsthand in the Scottish context because,
in Scotland, they set up these intermediate technology institutes
and they are rather like the ETI.
Q181 Dr Gibson: Would you tell us
about that. Where is it? Is it in Glasgow?
Professor Bruce: There is one
in energy which is based in Aberdeen and that is the one I know
best. The concept is similar, to try and pick up on promising
ideas in the laboratory in universities, invest in those, take
them on to the demonstrative stage and companies would then be
prepared to invest and take those technologies forward. I have
to say, having seen that in operation, I think that David has
one of the toughest jobs in this whole area because, again touching
two of the things that have been talked about, we have to pick
technologies or potential technologies that, you are right, are
having millions invested in by the automobile companies in the
US. We have to find solutions to the problems that are created
in our universities that are not really being developed. That
is the first problem. Then you have to invest in those and I think
that even £1 billion is not a lot of money to really take
technologies forward, so I think that that is far too small. I
think that David's roleand I do not want to tell him what
his job isfrom my perspective is going to be to form partnerships
with consortia an I think that has to be international consortia
with manufacturers outside the UK so that we can actually use
our ideas and our eventual know-how in partnership with these
other manufacturers outside and the need for far more investment
Q182 Dr Gibson: Are the Government
attracting that kind of initiative? Are they doing something about
Professor Bruce: My key concern
about the ITIsand I see this just as an outside observeris
that understandably because it is public money there are particular
expected protocols, shall we say, about protective investment
of public money and I think that can act to tie the hands of these
organisations looking for the best solution in any particular
circumstance. On one extreme you have a venture capitalist model
where you give a pot of money and say, "Go out, ETI, and
do deals with companies and whatever, do what you like, spend
the money in a way that you think is most wisely spent" and
I think that would be a good model. My concern with the ITIs is
that that has been reined back into the Scottish Enterprise mode
and the more traditional model of public funding.
Q183 Dr Gibson: This is ITIs?
Professor Bruce: Yes, the ITIs,
and I am really giving this is as an example of some of the pitfalls
that need to be avoided as we progress towards the ETI.
Q184 Dr Gibson: How can they get
their hands on the money from the RDA?
Professor Bruce: The ITIs basically
have a budget guaranteed for ten years to spend on these things,
but of course they are accountable through the Scottish Enterprise,
so they are not really as independent perhaps as they appeared
they would be in the first instance.
Q185 Dr Gibson: Do they get their
money from the RDA?
Professor Bruce: They get the
money from Scottish Enterprise.
Q186 Dr Gibson: Does anyone else
want to say anything about pulling it through? Do you have some
magic initiatives to do that because it might work in other areas
as well in this country? Everything is not silicon valley.
Dr Clarke: No.
Q187 Dr Gibson: Why not?
Dr Clarke: I think that Peter's
points are correct. This whole area has been addressed through
a number of groups such as ITI and we have seen a whole range
of options including venture capital. I think that the difference
with ETI in terms of what we are seeing now is that the focus
for this group is on engineering and technology and what we are
already seeing is that that is bringing the excitement, both in
people who want to work with us and people who to co-fund with
us, and the fact that this is not about, with all due respect
to Peter and his colleague, science in the laboratory, this is
about a relatively near-term market and tangible demonstration
of something that may be commercially viable and it is not just
potential funders, it is people who want to work with us and people
who want to work for us as recruits and it is other government
agencies and offshore companies outside the UK and not just ones
even who have a major presence here are expressing real interest
and saying, "This looks exciting". This is going to
start to pull technology through.
Q188 Dr Gibson: I read about an options
approach in environmental markets and economic reforms; is that
a reasonable way forward? Do you know what I am referring to?
Dr Clarke: Peripherally, yes.
Q189 Dr Gibson: But you have never
heard of it?
Dr Clarke: We have not dealt with
it at all.
Q190 Dr Gibson: So, those poor people
have produced a report that is of no consequence to the whole
Dr Clarke: I cannot comment without
reading the report, I am afraid.
Q191 Dr Gibson: It is very interesting
that you have not read the report.
Dr Golby: I think that we have
to be tolerant of failure as long as it is not repeated. In this
area, not everything will work and, if we have a traditional government
risk adverse approach here, we actually will not explore the technology
areas that potentially are going to be
Q192 Dr Gibson: I wish I had a fiver
for every time I have heard that said in this country! What are
we going to do about it?
Dr Golby: In the ETI, the private
sector funders are making it very clear that we are in there to
take those risks and we want the Government to stand alongside
us and not to have a piece of soul-searching every time a particular
project or piece of research fails. That is the nature of innovation.
Q193 Dr Gibson: What was David Clarke's
phraseno risk strategy or something?
Dr Clarke: Derisking.
Q194 Dr Gibson: Derisking, yes.
Dr Golby: The difference between
Q195 Dr Gibson: ... and risking,
Dr Clarke: There will never be
Chairman: We will make sure that that
comment goes in our report.
Q196 Mr Boswell: Specifically, Professor
Bruce, on knowledge and transfer, the Royal Society of Edinburgh
recommended that the knowledge partnership scheme should be extended
to renewables. Could you explain why that would make a difference.
Also, if you look at the existing book of knowledge transfer schemes,
have they made a measurable impact, so what extra has been added
and what has been achieved so far?
Professor Bruce: I am always ready
to admit my ignorance and, since I did not write the report and
am only really familiar with some parts of it, I really do not
think that I have the knowledge base to sensibly comment on that.
I am not evading the question, it is just that I do not have anything
sensible to contribute.
Q197 Mr Boswell: Does anyone else
on the Panel want to comment briefly on what is available within
the conventional knowledge transfer machinery at the moment and
whether this idea of going for knowledge partnerships would actually
help particularly with the smaller companies?
Dr Clarke: There is a huge challenge
that we have to address, not just ETI but the several organisations
here, though particularly ETI, around collaboration across a whole
range of organisations particularly around engaging some of the
SME-type groups, in many cases not just with other SMEs but with
the big corporates, and finding an effective way of making that
happen. That is a major challenge that we have to work with. There
is no magic answer, we just have to work at it.
Q198 Mr Cawsey: My question really
follows on from that, David, and is about intellectual property.
There has been some concern expressed in the past that SMEs may
have some of their ideas stolen by some of the bigger partners.
Do you think that collaborative links between universities and
industry are being hampered by intellectual property issues?
Dr Clarke: I think they are being
hampered by people's perceptions around what is going to happen
to their idea and the impact of that is that a group who wish
to collaborate together will probably spend 18 months haggling
over a legal agreement to cover all their concerns. They will
then put that agreement into a drawer and never look at it. I
speak from 20 years' experience.
Professor Bruce: I would endorse
Q199 Chairman: How depressing.
Dr Clarke: So the hampered part
is about speed in my mind and the realities are, if we can engineer
the right group of partners ... Certainly under ETI, we have no
intention of attempting to steal IP, which I think was the phrase
you used, from any of our technology groups and transfer that
into any of our big industrial partners. If, as part of a legal
agreement that we set up, that is agreed to happen, fine. The
ethos that we are setting up within ETI is that the key issue
is for IP to be retained by the people who can best manage it
and exploit it and, frankly, there is no point in anybody having
any IP in the technology space and the energy space if it cannot
find a route to exploiting it. In many cases, if that means that
you need a big corporate with the production capabilities and
market access and service capabilities to actually exploit that
IP, then, frankly, we will try and engineer a deal that gets that
IP into the big corporate and gives a fair return to the SME that
Professor Bruce: If we could get
a situation where we could leave the IP issues until it actually
matters, we would save an awful lot of time and money.
Dr Clarke: And we would be a lot
Professor Bruce: Nine times out
of ten, it will not matter and, when it does, they will know how
much it matters and how much they are likely to make from this
and we can then have a sensible discussion. As you say, we spend
a lot of time arguing over hypotheticals in this.
Dr Clarke: We know that the two
key issues that we are going to have to wrestle with are creating
effective collaborations and going very, very fast.