The Australian Research Council's bionic eye initiative – funded from 2010-2014 – offers a productive way to explore the barriers to successful innovation in Australia: it is a lesson in how not to innovate.

That's according to a new research brief from the United States Studies Centre's Innovation and Entrepreneurship program, which looks at what happened to Australia's efforts to build and commercialise a bionic eye by 2020, and contrasts Australia's research and development budget spend compared to countries like the United States.

"Clearly, Australia has a problem," said report author Dr Leigh Dayton. "The nation’s system for commercialising its applied science is bedevilled by structural and cultural barriers."

Dayton recommends a mix of policy actions – from funding to intellectual property changes – to avoid future lost opportunities like the bionic eye project, and tackle weak collaboration between research and industry partners.

"The bionic eye case is a particularly good example of a troubled R&D initiative and its lessons hold true more broadly. As an example of how not to innovate, a study of the bionic eye example leads to a suite of recommendations aimed at boosting the nation’s ability to take applied science to market," Dayton said.

"These recommendations focus on the lack of continuity in Australia’s ad hoc innovation system, its funding shortfall, poor collaboration and hurdles in the process of translating advanced biotechnology into commercial products."

Key recommendations

  • Establish Innovation and Science Australia as an independent and permanent agency responsible for developing and overseeing a national strategy for science and innovation in Australia, and for linking the research and innovation activities of the political, academic and industry sectors.
  • Increase the Commonwealth budget for science and innovation to a minimum of 3 per cent of GDP.
  • Explore the adoption of a single and simplified approach to intellectual property across the university and publicly-funded research sectors.

View or download brief

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