Methodological and Technological issues in Technology Transfer

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3.5.1 Role of Government in R&D and the Transfer of Publicly-owned or Supported ESTs

Governments play an important role in providing funding for public R&D programmes as part of their industrial policies or science and technology development strategy. These programmes are implemented either by government institutions or in joint partnership with the private sector. Over the past decade, about 40% of annual national R&D spending within a number of OECD countries was publicly funded (UNCTAD, 1998). To promote the development of ESTs that lack short-term commercial viability, government funding and public R&D programmes are vital. As pointed out in Chapter 2, while energy-related R&D by OECD governments has decreased (mainly in the coal and nuclear sectors) steadily in real terms since the early 1980s (Margolis and Kammen, 1999), R&D for energy efficiency and renewable technologies has been increased; they now form almost 20%, some US$2 billion, of total energy R&D expenditures made in 1995.

In addition, governments sponsor a range of R&D that can underpin private sector investments in developing ESTs. OECD countries could influence flows of such technology directly through their influence on the private sector or on public institutes, which receive funding from government for their R&D to be more active in transferring technologies to developing countries (Chung, 1998). The issue of publicly owned technology transfer and the role that national regulatory frameworks play in creating demand and markets for ESTs (See Table 2, UNCTAD, 1998) was addressed both in the Rio Summit of 1992 and the UNGASS of 1997.

Chapter 34 para.34.18(a) of Agenda 21, adopted in 1992, states that "Governments and international organisations should promote the formulation of policies and programmes for the effective transfer of environmentally sound technologies that are publicly owned or in the public domain".

The programme for the further implementation of Agenda 21 adopted at the UN General Assembly at its 19th Special Session (UNGASS) in 1997 stated that "A proportion of technology is held or owned by Governments and public institutions or results from publicly funded research and development activities". To fully explore this issue, a feasibility study on "the role of publicly funded research and publicly owned technologies in the transfer and diffusion of ESTs" was undertaken in 1997 jointly by the UNCTAD , UNEP and UN/DESA (UNCTAD, 1998). The results of this study were reviewed at an expert meeting in February 1998 (Government of Korea, 1998) and were reported to the 5th session of CSD (UNCSD, 1997). CSD adopted a decision encouraging governments to undertake pilot projects to explore opportunities for sector-specific applications of the recommendations on transfer and commercialisation of publicly funded ESTs.

Major findings of the feasibility study done by the UNCTAD are that governments are funding public R&D programmes as part of their industrial policy aimed at improving their industrial competitiveness. Strong emphasis is placed on the commercialisation of those technologies developed from public R&D.

In many cases, co-financing with the private sector also plays an important role. Many governments either transfer or license the patents of the publicly funded technologies to the private sector as part of their industrial policy, and then the transferred patents follow the rules of the privately owned technologies and behave just like the other ordinary private IPRs. Thus, instead of focussing on the technologies held by the government, the focus should rather be on the public R&D programmes for ESTs in exploring the feasibility of transferring publicly owned technologies.

The country case studies of the feasibility study identified no specific policy measures were introduced in the countries reviewed to implement the agreement contained in Agenda 21 for the transfer of publicly owned technologies. No specific policy measures were implemented for the transfer of publicly owned technologies among 10 countries studied, except by the US which restricts by law the transfer of publicly owned technologies solely to companies manufacturing substantially in the US. The other countries do not have specific legal restriction or policies which restrict the transfer of publicly owned technologies to developing countries.

Based on the above findings, it could be summarised that governments have not yet reviewed this issue for implementation. As governments are funding public R&D programmes as part of their industrial policy, the challenge for the governments is whether they can integrate global environmental cooperation and commitment into their industrial policy.

As governments are the main driver of public R&D programmes for ESTs, governments can play a critical role in the promotion of the transfer and dissemination of the ESTs. However, the modalities for the transfer of these publicly funded ESTs are yet to be explored and discussed among the experts representing those governments which have the potential of transferring such technologies in order to build up consensus at a multilateral level.

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