The divide between the worlds of academia and business is taking its toll on Brazil. At a time of consistent growth in the country’s scientific output, which reached a 2.02% share of internationally published articles in 2007, Brazil owns only 0.06% of the world’s registered patents, according to CAPES, the organization responsible for training advanced personnel at Brazil’s ministry of education. On the one hand, the development of knowledge appears to be moving ahead full force. Brazil has achieved an outstanding place among the countries of Latin America, with its output of scientific literature on a par with European countries such as Switzerland (1.89%), Sweden (1.81%), Holland (2.55%), and Russia. On the other hand, technology production (in terms of patents) still leaves much to be desired in comparison with such countries as South Korea (0.79%), Italy (1.31%), France (2.96%), and Japan (22.67%).
This imbalance is also made clear in a study published on September 11 by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), an arm of the World Bank. IBRD assists medium-income and poor countries by providing them with financial training. According to the report, titled “Knowledge and Innovation for Competitiveness,” Brazil remains behind other developing countries when it comes to converting such knowledge into practical results. One reason is the country’s low level of investment in research and development. While Brazil dedicates only 0.98% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to innovation, China invests 1.22%. As a result, Brazil remains behind its main global competitors: South Korea, China, India and Russia. Are the universities and corporations of Brazil aware of this situation? What roles do they play in this process? Is it possible to bring together these two worlds, which have lived apart for so many years?
Responses to those questions will enable Brazil to map out a strategy that can narrow the gap between Brazil’s productive sector and its academic world, experts say. According to Patricia Magalhães de Toledo, head of communications and strategic planning at Innova Unicamp (the University of Campinas’ agency for innovation), justification for such an effort arises from an analysis of the relationship between the two worlds in developed countries. “In the United States and Germany, for example, there is parity between the indices of scientific and technological output, thanks to this sort of interaction. So it is no accident that those countries occupy the top positions in the rankings of the scientific world,” she notes.
Another factor that separates Brazil from other countries is patent-ownership policies, she adds. Whereas companies own most patents in virtually every country worldwide, the principal owners of patents in Brazil are universities. Jorge Guimarães, president of CAPES, agrees. “In the developed world, the academic world does not produce more than 3% of all registered patents. In Brazil, it has 27% of all registered patents,” he says.
According to the latest study of INPI, the National Institute for Industrial Property, universities assume the leadership in patent registration. When it comes to registered patents, Unicamp, (the University of Campinas, in of São Paulo), ranks third, outpacing even companies with great technological power such as oil producer Petrobras, appliance maker Multibras, and Embraer, the aircraft maker. The biggest patent owners in Brazil include a long list of universities, headed by UFMG (the Federal University of Minas Gerais); USP (the University of São Paulo), and UFRJ (the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul.)
Looking at the number of researchers in the industrial sector also makes it clear that the business sector plays a limited role in technology development. Magalhães notes that “more than 70% of those Brazilian professionals work in universities; only 10% in industry and 15% in the government. In the United States, for example, 80% of researchers are in industry; 12% are in universities; and 18% are in government. In Germany, the situation is similar to the United States.” According to Carlos Henrique de Brito Cruz, scientific director of FAPESP, an organization that supports researchers in the State of São Paulo, this kind of data shows that corporations, which should be most responsible for creating patents, are investing little in their own research. “It is a mistake to believe that patents must be generated by universities,” Cruz says. “Teaching institutions produce research articles and they train students. And companies produce wealth and patents. Nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that universities cannot innovate and collaborate with them. On the contrary, those two functions are complementary.”
Nevertheless, Rita Pinheiro Machado, academic coordinator for intellectual property and innovation at INPI, the National Industrial Property Institute, believes that companies are timid about their role in the production of technology — especially small companies. That helps explain Brazil’s low ranking in global research. Brazil also falls short “in creating a culture of intellectual property. For the great majority of companies, especially researchers, there is no concern about registering and protecting their ideas and projects,” she emphasizes. “We have to change the behavior of people involved in the production of knowledge and technology.”
Luis Afonso Bermúdez, director of CDT/UnB, the University of Brasilia’s technology development assistance center, agrees. “To alter the current Brazilian scenario, you also need to transform the paradigms both at the universities and in the business sector,” he says. “The ideal thing is for universities and companies to recognize the additional power they can derive if they work together rather than in an isolated way.” He argues that universities must collaborate in training highly skilled personnel, and in the production of knowledge, while companies need to transform their knowledge into products and, consequently, into innovations that can be marketed.
Following the American example
Although Brazil’s situation is far from ideal, there has been some progress in strengthening the relationships between universities and companies. According to Guilherme Henrique Pereira, the secretary of technological development and innovation at the ministry of science and technology (MCT), the first steps in that direction began in 2004 with the creation of the Law of Innovation. “This initiative, apart from shining a spotlight on the topic, provides directives both to companies and universities, especially public ones, regarding the country’s scientific and technological output,” said Pereira.
Magalhães adds that the law has helped to promote the relationship between academia and business, and enhanced Brazil’s scientific and economic development. “These norms bring the two worlds closer together. Before 2004, initiatives aimed at interaction between them were few and far between. But the taboo that impeded this relationship is coming apart little by little, thanks largely to the growing awareness and stimulus that the law is providing to both sides.”
Magalhães explains that the American government did the same thing during the 1980s. “We are living through a period much like what the U.S. experienced twenty years ago. Our Law of Innovation is even inspired by U.S. legislation. The changes that were made [in the U.S.] are beginning to be made here.” She argues that Brazil’s backwardness in this regard is one of the key explanations for the different levels of scientific development in the two countries. Guimarães adds, “Brazilian universities are very new in comparison with foreign ones. Our institutions are reaching the age of fifty, while those in other countries are already over one hundred [years old].”
Brazilian companies and universities are coming closer together in four different ways: by creating cooperative laboratories; by developing projects jointly; by incubating start-ups; and by training skilled workers. Human resources has the oldest and most intense ties, according to Cruz. “In this respect, the missions of the companies and the universities merge together. While educational institutions must train highly qualified professionals, the business sector needs this kind of worker so that business can move ahead.”
Conditions in Brazil more recently have been quite favorable for thinking about other ways to interact. According to Cruz, the intensity of the relationship that some Brazilian universities have with the business sector compares favorably with the relationships found in many other countries. “In the U.S., companies finance 6% of all research in teaching institutions. In France, that number is 4%, and in the U.K. 6%. Here, that index varies between 4% and 7%. The problem is that few companies and universities follow that path,” says Cruz. According to IBRD data, investment in technological innovation is largely concentrated in the public sector, or about 55% of all investment in Brazil. That differs from many developed countries — in the U.S., for example, that number is just 30%. However, with the Law of Innovation, Brazilian universities, as well as research institutions, will be obliged to create centers for technological innovation and intellectual property. “Those will be the bridge that was missing for bringing the two sides closer together,” notes Magalhães. Those organizations are to function as facilitators of the negotiation and orientation process when it comes to issuing technology licenses and developing joint R&D initiatives between companies and educational institutions in the sciences and technology.
On the other hand, there are the financial incentives offered by BNDES, the National Bank for Economic and Social Development; the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development, and other institutions. This kind of assistance includes financing; loans that have more flexible payment terms; and even tax exemptions. One of the possibilities is the Rouanet Law, developed by the Ministry of Education, and managed by CAPES. Guimarães explains that under this law “interested companies will be able to receive deductions of from half to two-and-a-half times the value of their investments.”
Initiatives such as these can serve as a new beginning for developing a natural relationship between universities and companies. However, experts say that much remains to be done. For Machado, the first step is to clarify some obscure points in the Law of Innovation, mainly “in regard to the use of public funding, which is not well defined in the rules. The budget applied by the government can, and must, be transferred to industry, but we have to understand all the possibilities in the law for facilitating the relationship between universities and companies.”
One of the obstacles, notes Bermúdez: Universities don’t have autonomy when it comes to managing these associations. “Public institutions don’t have a defined legal shape. They cannot contract and decide where they will invest their funding. This damages the process of interaction because they don’t need to work with the same agility that companies need to have,” says Bermúdez. You also need to have greater mobility between the players involved in developing science and technology. Bermúdez adds, “Universities need to get to know the business world, and the business world needs to know the academic world. This interchange only exists after people have experienced things first-hand. Not everything you learn is from books.”
Nevertheless, Pereira believes that it’s necessary to strengthen all the mechanisms that already exist, and explore the Law of Innovation even further. “There are many regulations that are still not used by companies or by universities. One of them is authorization for granting licenses without remuneration to researchers who want to turn their projects into technological innovations,” notes Pereira. “This process must be continuous, but we cannot stop here. Without doubt we also need to evaluate what is being implemented in order to perfect and expand those activities in accordance with real needs.” According to Guimarães, it’s important not to forget the progress that has already been made, and the successful relationships that have already been created. “What we need to do is to strengthen the associations that have already yielded great results for Brazil’s scientific and technological development, and to create new initiatives. Brazil already has investments, and highly skilled personnel that have potential. It’s enough to move in that direction,” adds Guimarães. “Sure, we are in a hurry and we are anxious. But we need to remain calm. You cannot transform an underdeveloped country into a developed one in just one day.”