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Commerce Examines Global Context for U.S. Technology Policy

September 05, 1997

The Department of Commerce's Office of Technology Policy (OTP) recently released a policy paper that suggests the global environment affecting U.S. technology policy is changing rapidly, and policymakers are operating without current data or up-to-date conceptual frameworks.

The new report, The Global Context for U.S. Technology Policy, points out that "today's global competitive and technology landscape is profoundly different from the situation during much of the post-World War II period, when most of our current technology policies were developed."

The shifting balance between the U.S. and the rest of the world with respect to research and development activities in the last 40 years has been especially dramatic. In 1950, the U.S. performed 70 percent of the world's R&D activity. By 1994, the rest of the world was performing twice as much R&D as the U.S.

Despite a more dynamic and competitive global economy, the report cites several key industries in which U.S. performance is strong. Information technology and biotechnology are two areas where sustained public investment has been a major contributor to U.S. technological leadership.

Government's primary role, according to the report, is to focus investments on building assets that remain largely within the nation's borders -- people, infrastructure, and business climate.

The report suggests that, in response to the competitive challenges, the U.S. should continue to pursue federal technology policies that encourage fuller and faster exploitation of publicly-supported R&D by American firms. These policies, launched in the 1980s, involve efforts "to create partnerships between government-funded creators of technology, principally government laboratories and universities, and U.S. industry to speed the development and commercialization of new technology."

Still, the report cautions, all partners -- industry, academia and government -- should be alert to new policies and models that are appropriate to the current competitive and technological environment.

Copies of the report are available by calling OTP at 202/482-3037. The report is also available at www.ta.doc.gov/Reports.htm