Fionn Murtagh’s Blog

Themes: information economy, intellectual property, research

Archive for October 2009

Innovation: Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom – and then Wither…?

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Roger Needham, who was a major figure in computer science, said that one should not judge the quality of the flowers in the garden from the quantity of manure used to cultivate them. He was referring to research output and the funding that is used to drive research. It’s clear that the benefits of research are their own reward for society and for the individual. From another vantage point, those who allocate funding, maybe ultimately the taxpayer, have every right to know what is derived from the nitrous deposits.

Let’s look at the flowers. It is not a bad thing to countenance a thousand flowers blooming. It is super important too to cultivate the rare and ever so valuable specimens. This is what the French call the orchidean scholarly disciplines, the orchids among the flowers, which in the long run make us proud to be earthlings.

With these floral thoughts in my mind you can imagine how dismayed I was to see an enormously crass view expressed recently by Chris Horn, whom I generally admire.

“If Ireland is to become a world centre for innovation and one of the best smart economies, then it is important to understand why Irish innovators and entrepreneurs would want to stay here in Ireland, and why overseas innovators and entrepreneurs would want to start their companies here in Ireland: the basic reason is to get rich, by building a company to sell it.”

Ouff, is that all?

“Failure is expected. It is critical to fail early … Failure is common, but so are retries: investors and management learn from mistakes and anxious to use this wisdom to become rich by trying again.”

Let a thousand flowers bloom, let them wither and decay and out of the nitrous substances more flowers will spring up. Maybe, but I am thoroughly dismayed by the short-termism of it all, by the personal and unsociable (maybe even unsocial) aggrandizement, by the crudeness of using whomever is at hand to make a quick buck, – in a word by the striking amorality of all of this.

I have noted before (see next post on “Intellectual Property, Innovation and Globalization”) how we in Europe have a real problem with consolidating and growing companies of scale and stature. It is clear that if not consolidated and growing, if companies have no future, well, yes, they should become manure. But there must be a belief in what we are doing, in our engineering of systems, and in our provision of products and services.

Content and substance must be what counts in the end. Building in order to exit is a bad way to pursue any initiative. We may be – all of us – nitrous stuff in the end, but being spectacular in between times is what makes it all worthwhile.

My hope is that our Irish and our European ambition, in engineering, science and technology, are as high as they can be, and stay that way.


Written by Fionn Murtagh

2009/10/27 at 23:16

Posted in Innovation

Intellectual Property, Innovation and Globalization

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In the Sept. 2009 study for the Swedish Presidency, Green Knowledge Society – An ICT policy agenda to 2015 for Europe’s future knowledge society, it is written:

“Some interviewees pointed to the need for Europe to move away from a ‘permission to innovate’ culture. For instance, one of the few examples of European innovation is the file sharing service Pirate Bay, which challenges current intellectual property rules. Rather than attempt to stymie this innovation, we need a more thoughtful response and to rethink rules around protection of intellectual property rights so that they are fit for a digital economy.”

As one might say for a class test, – discuss!

From the French Digital Society Plan to 2012, France Numérique 2012, Plan de développement de l’économie numérique, October 2008, some further issues are addressed: How does one hang onto intellectual property and not lose it? And what are the major stages of innovation following the early start-up and early consolidation stages?

“France and Europe are clearly wrong-footed in terms of the software industry, essentially due to the absence of actors of significant scale. Beyond a few companies like SAP (Germany) or Dassault Systèmes (France), most software giants originate in the US. … Company creation abounds today in the software sector as in many other sectors. However, the young shoots struggle to reach the stature of a world scale actor. The presence of actors of substantial scale (turnover over 500 million euro, international presence) is essential for the software ecosystem in France so as to focus activity of the sector around convergent themes. Much evidence has confirmed that the future of the young shoots is uncertain. They struggle to get the financial resources needed to get on to the global scene; and the most dynamic of them are bought out by foreign-based actors of world scale, separating the technology and the associated jobs from their territorial anchoring.”

Firstly, the critical need to attain scale is emphasized here. Sufficient scale is as much needed in business and commerce as is sufficient scaling up of speed by an aircraft.

Secondly, without sufficient and critical scale, local anchoring in the given cultural terrain will not be enough in its own right. Both critical scale and local culture are needed to build and consolidate an economy in the global context.

Written by Fionn Murtagh

2009/10/15 at 21:56