Yesterday, I posted a column applauding two recent articles that investigated what William A. Wulf, former head of the National Academy of Engineering, calls our “innovation ecology.” This is the collection of patent laws, research and development budgets, product approval processes, marketplace characteristics, etc. that govern the quantity and quality of invention in the United States.
The ways in which scientific research turns into useful consumer products that promote the national economy-including how government, businesses and universities further or impede that goal-is an important subject. It is also a difficult one for reporters to crack because it is so broad. Where does one begin? The articles I mentioned yesterday, which came from different publications, each took a different approach to the same topic. But while I was busy writing, I missed two other items that are germane and worthy of note.
Both come from The New York Times. On Sunday, Michael Fitzgerald had a business column about recent findings that U.S. patent laws often inhibit innovation and economic growth more than they encourage them-a view steadfastly shared by Wulf. On Monday, Andrew Revkin and Matthew Wald critiqued the difficulties involved in moving solar energy technology from “niche to mainstream.” Despite growth in the industry, they report, government and private investment in its research and development is miniscule compared to investments in fossils fuels, nuclear and even biofuels.