Decision-Makers' Session Outline

Disseminating Innovation: Meeting the Demands of a Changing World
Thursday, 27 May 2010 - 15.15-16.30 - Hall 3
To optimise their effectiveness and benefits, innovations require wide dissemination:
  • Can global standards support the dissemination of new applications without favouring specific technologies?
  • How can national and international intellectual property regimes preserve competition, while also ensuring that essential new ideas are disseminated across the global supply chain?
  • What are new ways of sharing innovation, including internet applications? What are the benefits and risks? How should the costs and benefits be shared?
  • How can partnerships be built between public and private actors and across borders?
  • How can an appropriately skilled workforce be ensured to take up and adapt to innovation, while mitigating impacts on workers?
  • Nisha Pillai, International Journalist and Broadcaster
  • Klaus Baur, Chairman of the Management Board, Bombardier Transportation Germany
  • George Dragnich, Executive Director, International Labour Organization
  • Marc Juhel, Sector Manager Transport, World Bank
  • Hanns-Karsten Kirchmann, CEO, Toll Collect
  • Igor Levitin, Minister of Transport, Russia
  • Weng Mengyong, Vice Minister of Transport, China
The benefits of innovation derive from its wide deployment. This involves the capacity of a large number of actors throughout economies, companies, governments and societies to put in place, employ and adapt new thinking, practices and applications. The user has a particularly important role to play.

A major challenge is providing the right incentive structures to induce innovation among private actors and researchers. The research and development process can involve large up-front costs, and requires reasonable returns. However, the economic returns to any individual innovator will likely be overshadowed by the benefits to society resulting from the use of his or her innovation. An important question, then, is how to construct intellectual property regimes that protect the innovator and induce the wide deployment of innovation. Linked to this, many good ideas never get beyond the analytical phase; universities and researchers thus also need to be provided with the right incentive structures to see their work put into action, without overly commercialising the research process.

This question of incentive structures must be seen on the global scale. The greatest demand for new and improved systems may be expected in those countries with the highest economic and population growth. How then can the benefits of innovation be optimised internationally? Furthermore, how can the lead-times for the deployment of new products and services be reduced to allow them to facilitate economic development? Cross-border partnerships may play an important role here, and these will be particularly facilitated by the existence of regulatory regimes that ensure returns on investment.

The harmonisation of standards and interoperability of technologies will contribute to the global distribution of new technologies and processes. This also infers a need for government intervention and cross-border cooperation. But overly prescriptive standard-setting could suppress innovative instincts and benefit some regions‟ firms over others.

Information exchange – within and between sectors, and between public and private actors – is important, and the internet has opened up important mechanisms for this. However, there is a cost to setting up such instruments, and they must be objective in order to ensure that all participants benefit equally.

An essential part of this equation is the human factor. Any new idea or technology is only as good as those who employ it. It is essential that workers and consumers have the basic knowledge and skills to allow them to take up new ideas, adapt them to different processes, and provide useful feedback for constant improvement. Basic education systems, as well as ongoing training, have an important role here. Furthermore, inevitably, some workers will suffer displacement as a result of innovation, and it is also important to consider these consequences, so that they do not result in resistance to change.

In all of these questions, there is a clear role for government, but also the risk that excessive intervention could quell innovative initiative.