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Boston Consulting Group: Private-public research consortia fundamental to U.S. competitiveness

April 20, 2017

While the U.S. remains the global leader in overall R&D spending, China has surpassed the U.S. in later stage technological investments, according to a new report by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). At its current rate of growth, the authors find that China’s investment in later-stage R&D could double that of the U.S. by 2018. Their analysis suggests that there is significant potential for the U.S to get more out of its R&D by strengthening the relationships between industry and research institutions.

In An Innovation-Led Boost for US Manufacturing, authors Hal Sirkin, Justin Rose, and Rahul Choraria from BCG examine the relationship between research and development and economic competitiveness. They find that roughly one-third of U.S. R&D spending focuses on basic and applied research, a much higher share than other industrial economies. China, for example, invests more than 80 percent of its total R&D spending in development researchers, while other nations such as Germany, Japan, South Korea are also aggressively focusing on this component of R&D.

Industry experts interviewed for the study cited impediments such as communication gaps with industry, cultural frictions for university researchers, and a lack of long-term relationships as key obstacles for converting basic and applied research into innovative new products and processes. Additionally, those interviewed suggested that a reluctance to collaborate, disconnected supply chains, and issues related to the skills gap act as further hindrances to the commercialization process.

In their recommendations, the authors from BCG focus on the ability of public-private research consortia, such as the Manufacturing USA network, to help address the country’s challenges around commercializing basic and applied research. Recommendations by the authors include a variety of actions, such as:

  • Using industries as a lens for public-private research consortia;
  • Investing in shared facilities for research consortia;
  • Including SME’s alongside OEM’s in research consortia; 
  • Establishing a central repository for federally-funded university research;
  • Highlighting commercial applications for research in academic publications;
  • Clearly communicating expectations for industry sponsored research; and,
  • Focusing university-industry partnerships on longer-term goals.