Decline in Basic Research Threatens American Innovation

MIT released a report showing which details specific impacts of the declining federal investment in basic research.

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“Last year was a notable one for scientific achievements: In 2014, European researchers discovered a fundamental new particle that sheds light on the origins of the universe, and the European Space Agency successfully landed the first spacecraft on a comet. Chinese researchers, meanwhile, developed the world’s fastest supercomputer, and uncovered new ways to meet global food demand.”

“But as these competitors increase their investment in basic research, the percentage of the U.S. federal budget devoted to research and development has fallen from around 10 percent in 1968 to less than 4 percent in 2015.”

Working Capital Review: Are “patent thickets” killing innovation?


  1. But isn’t the free market taking over and funding all of this profitless research? I thought that was how this was suppose to work. Don’t tell me that because there is no clear profit to be made that companies don’t fund this sort of thing because that is not what the conservatives and libertarians have been telling us all this time.

  2. This is yet another illustration of the penny-wise / pound-foolish conservative mindset on government spending. They are NEVER for it — even though money spent on pure research, on birthing new industries, etc. has provably goosed the economy and fostered innovation. It has often even inspired young people, which of course couldn’t possibly be a public good we’d actually want to pay for.

    In concept, neither copyrights or patents are at all wrong. It is only fair for the creator of something to have the rights to that creation while he or she is alive. By the same token, an invention needs the protection of a patent to help offset the costs and risks associated with bringing that invention to the marketplace, etc.

    But a newer element in the mix these last few decades is sheer, unfettered greed. Common copyright law was extended in 1976 to last for the life of the inventor plus 50 years (why?) — and was also made retroactive on any creation not yet in the public domain (why?). In 1998 copyrights were extended even further, most notably doubling the lifespan of corporate copyrights. The results have created not only a new class of inherited wealth but also a serious barrier to natural, creative re-expression (of music, art, etc.) or the helpful repurposing of other content or products. Just one egregious example: the film Selma, whose producers could not get permission to use Dr. Martin Luther King’s most famous speech in a movie that honored him.

    The “thicket of patents” is another symptom. Traditionally, the biggest believers in patents are — surprise, surprise — pharmaceutical companies and chemical companies; most other industries fall well below these two in finding patents critical to development of new products or processes. More recently however, Apple and Google and other software giants have started patenting and otherwise copyrighting sub-sub-sub parts, assemblies, and lines of code. None of this has much helped to halt piracy (which was their ostensible aim) — but it has birthed a new industry: patent trolls. And made it much harder for beginning entrepreneurs to get the rights to essential building blocks that used to be shared coin.

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