Friday, February 27, 2009

Public Research vs Private Research

Commercialization is the end product of research. Every research organization and individual scientist wishes to bring their products to the market one day. This would mean that their product has market value; years of their research could be converted to dollars and cents; all their sloughing hours at the laboratory bench would benefit mankind, improve lives and quality of life; they were working on a well-thought project and it wasn’t a waste of time, fund and efforts; it brings fame and credibility to them and their institutes. These are just some simple reasons for commercialization. Of course, the efforts of those involved in basic research are equally appreciated (provided they are of quality). I, for one have always supported basic research because it is the fundamental and prerequisite for commercialisation. I even said in one of my previous article the need for basic research.

In spite of commercialization being a buzzword now, many might wonder how many products have come out from our local universities and research institutes. Certainly our rubber and palm oil industry flourished due to the hard work of the Malaysian Rubber Board and Malaysian Palm Oil Board. What else could we quote?

Some statistics to share with you for the period of 2003-2006:

* The number of patents from public universities in Malaysia: 279
* The number of patents from all research institutes in Malaysia: 171
* The number of patents from National University of Singapore: 121
* The number of patents from Nanyang Technological University: 43

I don’t want to elaborate on these figures. They speak for themselves.

The other issue is that – the number of patents does not say much about chances for commercialization. Though there a number of patents from local scientists, why aren’t they commercialised? With the ranking system, every university wants to hold the highest number of patents. This causes a rush in patenting their work with no consideration on the applicability of the patent.

I have few answers for this:

1. At private sector, they work backwards. In other words, they start a project with the end in mind. All projects are commenced based on the need of the market. They study the market first before investing the money and time. Whereas, at the public sector, the scientists or institutes try to create a market for the product that they are or have developed.

2. At the private sector, the best brain leads the research and team members are assigned based on their expertise. No politics rears its head. Profit is the main factor. Anyone who can’t agree with the team, its objectives, or unable to perform are led to the door. At the public sector, collaboration is not a favourite word. It is difficult to form team comprising of scientists from different institutes. Everyone has their own agenda and interest. Funding committees are not nonpartisan.

3. Continuity and perseverance is the rule of the day at private sector. Board of directors, share holders, top management can change but not the project, unless it is deemed to fail. This is a rare case at the public sector. Projects, policies, direction changes every time a new minister, director and top management takes office.

4. At the end of the day, private sectors have no choice but to produce results and are held accountable for the funds allocated. Failure is certainly not an option. At the public sector, we hear about launches but hardly hear about the outcome of it.

To succeed public sectors must be run like corporate. Quality, productivity, effectiveness, and end results must be the rule of the day. As I always say, the only option we have is to succeed. Failure is never an option!

By Mahaletchumy Arujanan

1 comment:

CK said...

I think you are confused by a basic understanding of commerical research and fundamental basic science research. To presuppose that commercialization is the end point for research is a gross mistatement.