Dec 212010
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Top emerging economies are forging research collaborations to help the less well-off

The idea that poorer countries should catch up economically with wealthier ones before spending heavily on R&D was challenged by a report released last week. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report contradicts theories widely held by development professionals and international organizations such as the World Bank.

Although the 34 OECD member countries, which are all industrialized, are likely to dominate much of R&D for the foreseeable future, other nations are starting to make their mark in this area, and will help to redraw the global science, technology and industry (STI) map, according to the analysis. The OECD Science, Technology and Industry Outlook 2010, updated every two years, says that “increasingly, countries as diverse as China, South Africa, Indonesia and Vietnam are developing broad-based innovation strategies that encompass existing and new technologies, as well as social innovations”.

“China is progressing in leaps and bounds,” Ester Basri, senior policy analyst in the OECD’s science and technology policy division, told Nature.

Thinking globally

Looking to the future, the share of renewable-energy patents among the total filed by so-called BRIICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China and South Africa — came in at an average of 1.07% in 2007, the last year for which international patent figures are available. That figure is above the world average of 0.89%, Basri says. It was a bit lower than the 1.19% recorded for the European Union (EU), but was much higher than the 0.67% for the United States or 0.47% for Japan.

“There is a more global and pragmatic approach to STI development in emerging countries than there was,” adds Mario Cervantes, a senior economist in the OECD’s science and technology division. In the past, this was based only on technology transfer between the developed world and poor countries, but now fast-growing developing countries are also helping the less-well off to develop their STI.

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