Why Innovation Isn't Just Another Buzz Word

Dean C. Garfield photo

Far too often in Washington, we lose sight of the practical.

Essentially, how specific policies stand to impact millions of people and the communities in which they live and work. From health care and energy to technology and innovation, the standard default is analysis and legislative language, not the ingenuity (and vast potential) of a concept or idea. By focusing on the wonky instead of the practical and transformative, we lose sight of the potential of technology to completely change the game.

Earlier this week, the organization I lead launched "Faces of Innovation," a new online campaign that showcases the way in which innovative technologies and the people behind them are positively impacting our day-to-day lives. More specifically, this Web series is aimed at helping the public and policymakers better understand how policies important to the high-tech sector, such as the research and development (R&D) tax credit and ICT enabled clean energy, directly link to developing innovations that make our lives better,businesses and households more efficient, and America more competitive.

The message? R&D and innovation matter.

Consider the following: due to R&D and the race to innovate in the ICT sector, we are all walking around with computers in our mobile devices that are a million times cheaper, a thousand times faster, and a hundred times smaller than the original computers. As a result, we can access Wi-Fi in a plane, translate language in real time, smartly monitor our energy usage, deploy mobile diagnostic devices to the underserved, and accomplish on the go what only a select few could a mere decade ago.

If the exponential pace of development that has taken place in the tech sector were applied to other sectors, a plane traveling from New York to Paris which took 7 hours and cost $900 in 1978 would now take less than 0.25 seconds and cost less than a penny.

Unfortunately, the nation's drive to continue to invest in R&D is stalling at a time when such investment is most needed to keep up with our global competitors. In the early- to mid-1980s, federal funding accounted for approximately 45% of all R&D funding, it is now down to approximately 26% of all R&D. That is bad.

Fortunately, the private sector continues to invest. Even in an economic crisis the private sector continues to increase its spend on R&D. In fact, private sector R&D spending will likely exceed $260.3 billion this year and will account for 64.8% of all U.S. R&D.

Yet, despite this, more needs to be done. We need policymakers to stand alongside the private sector and make R&D a national priority. We need to encourage and reward innovation, as well as the people behind it. And, without question, we need to do so while the U.S. is still considered a global leader.

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