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Better support for inventors needed

Inventions are important for Sweden- but they are not being utilised. In a report from Vinnova, LiU researchers Per Frankelius and Charlotte Norrman suggest that individual inventors and small companies with ideas for inventions should get support from a special innovation office even at the early stages.

The research report, “The Importance of Inventions for Sweden” (Uppfinningarnas betydelse för Sverige) by Per Frankelius and Charlotte Norrman who are researchers at the Division of Business Administration and the Division of Project, Innovation and Entrepreneurship (PIE) respectively, was commissioned by The Swedish Inventors' Association with funding from Vinnova, Almi and Tillväxtverket.

It was released on 13 March. That same day, the authors got to present their conclusions at a seminar arranged by the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers. Later that day, they gave a presentation of their results to members of parliament.

Vy över London

In the face of increasingly strong global competition, innovation is seen as increasingly important for the economic development of Sweden - but in discussions the underlying preconditions are seldom mentioned: “Innovation needs inventions or fundamentally new ideas. This self-evident statement does not tally with the way the socio-economic debate has been conducted. Pretty much anything is seen as innovation these days,” says Frankelius.

The study throws light particularly on inventions or new ideas that are in an “extremely early stage” and do not have their origin in academia. This means independent inventors or people in large organisations who develop ideas, but where the development work does not get a chance because the employer and the company do not prioritise them.

These “garden shed inventions” are a hidden resource with great potential. The problem, according to Frankelius and Norrman, is they are not optimally utilised.

Per Frankelius och Charlotte Norrman med sin rapport

And it is not only the creation of inventions and fundamentally new ideas that is important.

“Equally as important is that new things also get a foothold in the market or in society. Otherwise there will not be innovations,” Norrman says. “This process of gaining a foothold is probably just as difficult as the development of new ideas or products. It requires strategic competences such as marketing, sales and entrepreneurship.”

In addition to analyses, models and case studies, the report contains a concrete suggestion aimed at the government. It proposes an investment of SEK 250 million (ca EURO 30 million) over five years to pool resources around a new type of national resource with local nodes to support individual inventors and small enterprises with inventive ideas precisely at the very early stages. That is, innovations offices similar to those that today exist in connection with universities and colleges.

“But academic environments can also play an important role in driving the innovation processes which exist at the early stages even if they do not originate in academic research. An example of competence support might be capturing detailed knowledge of the market by means of systematic methodology, both for verification and process development,” Norrman says.

There are signs that the old powerhouses in the Swedish economy are losing power, the researchers point out: “Companies like Sandvik are forced to watch as new competitors from countries such as China or Israel are beginning to steal orders and market share on the international market. At the same time new companies with strong international competitiveness seem to be having trouble developing in the Swedish environment. We would love to hold up companies such as Ikea and H&M as ‘new’ but they were actually founded before 1950...”

The report contains a numbers of case studies where the innovation process around an invention, an idea or a brand led to it becoming successfully established – or falling by the wayside. Grythyttan found a place on the world gastronomy map; the development of the Kolmården wildlife park brought new life to a poor municipality from the ‘60s; the story of the sports bra Stay in Place, which is a long history of stubbornness and unsympathetic financiers; a successful advertising group, which gave impetus to international expansion; and a burnt-out entrepreneur who was advised by the social security office to go on a business start up course.

And of course examples of inventions of the classical type with a bright future ahead of them, such as the construction of an agricultural machine for cultivation with reduced or no pesticides (picture above photo from Gothia Redskap).

“System Calmeleon from Gothia Redskap is a good example of a brilliant invention by an independent inventor. It has a very good chance of becoming both an important export product and of contributing to growth in those farms that buy it,” the researchers write.

The report may be ordered via the Vinnova website. An electronic version may be downloaded free of charge form the same website.

Gunilla Pravitz 2013-03-25

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Last updated: 2017-02-13