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“Death Valley” for Brazilian science

| Photo: Artem Podrez – Pexels

“Death Valley” in the title of this column has a double meaning, and unfortunately, none of them are very good. In a year in which the importance of science and technology has seen the most verification to contain the biggest catastrophe caused by the novel coronavirus pandemic, our leaders have decided to make deep cuts in the resources devoted to this purpose. Yes, Brazil is in crisis, but grabbing the resources where the solution could come is nonsense.

We are already suffering the consequences of denigrating the science and lack of coordinated action, but noticeable budget cuts in April He was stabbed to continue important research projects, particularly in the field of health.

The lack of government financial resources for projects with high potential to impact is causing them to go into slowdown or even suspension only when we need to get our feet on the accelerator.

Innovation requires that we face risks, while taking the greatest risks in science and technology supported by government resources.

Even innovation bubbles, like Silicon Valley and Israel, rely heavily on this kind of resource to get the most revolutionary ideas on the ground.

What about the industry?

The industry invests in innovation, but it does not fulfill the role of governments. The sector invests heavily in concepts with a greater degree of proof, otherwise it rarely enters the race.

Think about the vaccines we have today. Despite knowing that they will earn billions from its commercialization, all pharmaceutical companies have used public resources to mitigate development risks, many of them in partnership with universities.

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There is a rule for assessing the degree of maturity of a technique called The level of technical readiness Or simply TRL. It’s a scale from 1 to 9 that NASA designed in the 1970s for application in its missions. Since then, this scale has been published worldwide, and since 2015, we have the ABNT standard on the topic (NBR 16290: 2015).

Basically, TRL levels range from 1 to 2 from basic knowledge generation to applied research. From 3 to 6, we have the transition from applied research to experimental development, with laboratory scale testing, prototype production and testing in larger environments. In levels 7 and 8, the technology is transferred to the measurement stage, noting whether the verification that occurred in the previous stage was also demonstrated at the industrialization stage. Finally, in TRL 9, the technology enters the production and marketing stage.

Source: ABGI Brasil
Source: ABGI Brasil

“Death Valley”

TRLs 1 to 3 are mainly provided by universities, even if they are the hardest hit in our country. The industry is investing heavily in projects TRL 7 and above.

Halfway through, we have the second “Valley of Death” that I mention in the title. Thousands of projects that can yield enormous benefits to society midway through the lack of mechanisms to promote their development.

Some agencies, such as Finep, BNDES and Embrapii, support projects in this TRL range, but the resources and demand remain insufficient for the volume of science and technology produced in the country.

There are also tax incentive laws, such as Lei do Bem and Lei de Informática, that reduce technology research and development costs, but these resources are accessed by a small portion of the national industry.

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If we take into account the years from 1996 to 2019, Brazil ranks 15tha The center is in the number of scholarly articles published in high-impact international journals, according to Scimago Institutions Rankings, With a total of about 1.027 million documents. At the same time our country occupied 62a Position in the Global Innovation Index 2020, as revealed by the World Intellectual Property Organization. This data is very different. In other words, we have many initiatives but little “end”.

Patents

And when we look at our intellectual protection data, we also see a disturbing picture of how our national industry needs more innovation.

From around 25.3 thousand patents have been filed In Brazil in 2019, there were only 5.4 thousand Brazilians. The United States filed 7,500 patents in Brazil in the same year. In other words, Americans register 38.9% more patents than Brazilians themselves.

Patent applications by origin of the applicant – 2008-2019

    Source: INPI - Economic Affairs Advisory - Badepi v7.0
Source: INPI – Economic Affairs Advisory – Badepi v7.0

Among the few national patents, a large portion is filed by individuals. When it comes to legal entities, universities are the biggest actors.

In other words, few of our inventions are actually being implemented and becoming innovations. What is the best director? Encouraging a link between university and industry is one of the medium and long term possibilities that I have covered in the previous columns. However, the the current situation Nowadays he has a risk aversion – the numbers show the journey doesn’t take long strides.

What can we do? Creating ways to transform these technologies into companies, by encouraging researchers to put their inventions on the market.

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Many research support organizations encourage this type of action through public notices such as Innovation Synapse, Spark, PIPE, and others.

But the dedicated resource is still very shy when compared to what is happening with this type of initiative in countries that are at the forefront of innovation, such as China, Singapore, and Israel – to name but a few the United States of America. Another weakness of these programs is that they are of little follow-up other than the expenditure of resources.

Inventors are not necessarily entrepreneurs

Therefore, in order to be more assertive in the use of public resources, it is important to have specialized training and mentoring processes for these professionals, as well as devices that connect people with different skills, and standardize technology with business. Accelerators and incubators of companies associated with universities and research institutes are islands where this dynamic is taking place in our country and should be encouraged.

With this massive first installment, we have the potential to own a large number of new companies that are able to influence not only Brazil, but other countries in the world.

Only with the latest technology combined with innovative business models will we stop being a follower and become leaders.