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The Warsaw Voice » Other » June 17, 2009
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Innovation as a Remedy for the Crisis
June 17, 2009   
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Włodzimierz Hausner, director of the Polish Federation of Engineering Associations (NOT) Innovation Center, talks to Piotr Bartosz.

The Polish Federation of Engineering Associations (NOT) works closely with engineers, helping them carry out their projects. It is also involved in intellectual property management and teaches Polish entrepreneurs the ins and outs of secure and legal technology transfer. Are these activities supposed to result in an increased level of innovation in the Polish economy and a larger number of registered patents?
We don't directly work on projects involving intellectual property protection. We do run targeted projects that receive funding from the Ministry of Science and Higher Education. They constitute intellectual property, a higher form of industrial property. We assign the funds in targeted projects to research aimed at launching new products or technology by small and medium-sized businesses working with research and development centers, scientific institutes, and universities of technology. We evaluate projects and qualify them for implementation. So far we have accepted over 1,200 applications and signed 750 agreements under which we have provided substantial funding to various projects-in 2002-2008 the total amount was zl.140 million. On average, about zl.200,000 is assigned per project.

We ensure full confidentiality for projects and often encourage businesspeople to protect their intangible assets with copyrights or patents.

Do you actually have to encourage them to do that?
Unfortunately, nothing puts people off as effectively as the lengthy process of obtaining protection in the Polish patent office. At my numerous meetings with engineers and technicians, researchers and entrepreneurs, I often hear very critical remarks about how long it takes to obtain a patent and how expensive this is. One example is the Kwant Sp. z o.o. measuring apparatus company from Cracow, which outperforms all other companies on the Polish market, competing not only with their prices but mainly the technological standards of their products. One of the company's products was singled out for praise in the Polish Product of the Future competition last year. The company came up with a remarkable project for large power plants, involving a coal-dust flow control system. Bogdan Niewczas, a Polish engineer with a Ph.D., waited five years for a patent in Poland; in the United States, he received confirmation of his patent within six months.

Where's the main problem? After all, the costs seem to be high everywhere. Many Polish inventors and innovators say that the European Patent Office also charges exorbitant prices for its services. Do you agree with this point of view?
Actually, it's not all that expensive everywhere. It's much cheaper in Japan and the United States. Maybe that could be an alternative for our inventors. Poland is not a country with a great number of patents per million residents; we are at the bottom of the list globally. There's a paradox in this, because we have a great many good projects. The only trouble is that we keep receiving signals from the 35 innovation centers that are members of the Polish Federation of Engineering Associations on how inefficient the patent procedures are. I want to stress, though, that these days it's not the patent that's the most important thing.

What is the most important then?
Launching production of a new product or a technology. Innovation is a question of speed: a technology should be implemented and profits made on it. We have seen the completion of over 700 major projects. One example is the famous Melex electric vehicle made in Mielec, Podkarpacie province. At first it existed only as a golf cart; today there are several versions for different uses. It is so popular in its class that in Polish all electric carts are called Melexes. Original Melex carts are widely used at golf courses, especially in the United States. They are also used in agriculture, forestry, passenger transportation, municipal services… This is precisely an example of development based on prompt implementation.

Does this mean those who measure a country's innovativeness with the number of registered patents are wrong?
A frequent mistake is assuming that an idea is an innovation. It's not true. An innovation is something that has been implemented; an innovation is a change that brings financial results. I will always argue three things: there is no innovation without research; innovations must prove their mettle on the market; time is the enemy of innovation. There was a time when the market was stable and a given product was manufactured for many years. Today technological changes occur quickly, especially in the production of cars or mobile phones. There is no need to protect every idea; we just have to improve our products.

How does that relate to intellectual property protection? A patent is not a condition of implementation, but will an entrepreneur invest in something that doesn't have a document confirming that it is original? Can a scientist approach an entrepreneur with an interesting experiment result if he or she has nothing to confirm that this is really their research?
In our projects, small and medium-sized enterprises work with research centers. They have a plan; they know that there's demand for a product or range of products; they seek cheaper or more effective technologies, develop a product that can be launched on the market or modernize an existing product of their own. The rule followed in the Innovative Economy Operational Program, under which a project may only receive funding for a technology that has been used in the world for no more than three years, is nonsense. Sometimes they say one year. How many companies in Poland are able to apply technologies that have been known around the world for no more than a year? […]

On one hand, we have unique technologies of the highest world standard, but they concern special fields. On the other hand, in foundry engineering, for example, it's a question of changing the casting method, the chemical composition, the material. These aren't very advanced technologies, but still very much needed. It's the same in agriculture-a plow is still a plow, it's just that today it may have a different design and is more efficient than those used in the past.

Does that mean you don't agree with those why say that only innovative, patented projects should be eligible for co-financing?
Intellectual property also includes copyrights. I think patenting is important if it involves something completely original that we don't want to reveal before it is applied. I was the director of a large company for many years. I dealt with chemical apparatus; we built sugar factories and sulfuric acid factories. Of course, some patent protection is involved, but the main point is to build a factory.

A document is only a confirmation of an idea. The patent office patents an idea, sketch, drawing or description. All you get is an exclusive right, a guarantee that nobody will see something, do something before you do. At the same time, this blocks the flow of information in the economy. I think projects are more important, not ideas. It's like the saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions-Poland is paved with ideas today. Wherever you go, people have ideas, but are often unable to apply them in practice.

I'm a businessman and I know that it's possible to be successful in business without theory and that jobs can be created in the process. In our projects, which last about 18 months, we provide zl.200,000 on the minister's behalf; the entrepreneur contributes the same amount and adds a further zl.200,000 to buy machinery and start production. Such a project, worth zl.600,000, results in an increase in production by zl.1.5 million on average and creates new jobs. These aren't theories; it's business practice on the basis of which we have published a manual for European Union countries on how innovation can help create jobs. If there is good cooperation with a research center, the entrepreneur is able to develop his idea and, thanks to targeted projects-implement it. In reality, most of the design work today is done in 3D on computers.

Doesn't the time come to protect the developed technology in the end?
Yes, but as a product. That's why I'm more in favor of trademarks, utility models-certificates securing a product's identity. We have lots of products that we can showcase internationally, and that's exactly what we do. Since 2002 we have organized the Engineering Forum at the Poznań International Fair grounds as part of the Innovation-Technologies-Machines exhibition. In the form of a show, not a boring scientific conference, we present all that has been accomplished in this area. Half of the participants are small and medium-sized enterprises. Some represent research institutions, and the rest are our experts who deal with innovations. Last year's meeting was entitled "NOT as a Promoter of Innovative Entrepreneurs;" this year's title is "Innovation as a Remedy for the Crisis."

Why this title?
The forum is embedded in an important international and domestic context: the future of Polish engineers and scientists is being decided. Legislative work is under way on five draft laws concerning science: on research institutes, on ways of financing science, on the National Center for Research and Development, on the National Science Center, and on the Polish Academy of Sciences. The rules for financing targeted projects will be specified as part of the science sector reform. The forum's message is compatible with the views of the European Commission, which has proclaimed 2009 as the European Year of Creativity and Innovation under the motto "Imagination-Creativity-Innovation." NOT is co-organizing a Polish alliance called the Innovation Coalition.

We plan to show completed projects from the field of plastics processing, including road posts made using the latest technology and the recycling of PET bottles. The Oil and Gas Institute will talk about projects related to ecological and economical combustion of different fuels. We will discuss new NOT projects and talk about the Innovative Economy program. The forum will also feature the DĽwignia (Lever) award that will be presented by NOT President Ewa Mańkiewicz-Cudny, editor-in-chief of Przegl±d Techniczny, to entrepreneurs creating new jobs.

To what extent should people protect their technical ideas, and to what extent should they share them with others for the general good?
Intellectual property protection is very much needed, but it's worth answering the question if it is a goal in itself. I don't think it is. The goal is to launch production. If I had to wait five years to obtain a certificate before I started production, it would be a mistake because in five years' time that innovation would no longer be new. Some things require a certificate, others require some form of protection-a trademark or a utility model, before they can be implemented.

Changes are taking place extraordinarily fast, and new technologies are being used all the time-just look at the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries, where new products are crowding out old ones. Waiting is not an option. I am an innovation buff, and I disagree with the view that Poland is not innovative. People in Poland are very creative and innovative, it's just that they encounter huge administrative barriers every now and again.

How would you counter the arguments of those who claim that Poland lags far behind Europe as far as innovation is concerned? What innovative Polish products deserve special mention?
In May we celebrated the 90th anniversary of the Polish Geological Institute in Warsaw, a company that works with us. It received the highest award for a track chain boring rig that drills holes in the ground down to almost 100 m. Nordmeyer, one of the best companies in the world in the sector, was also exhibiting at the same time. A boring rig developed by Mieczysław Gorzoch, a hydraulic engineer from the Bipromasz design and trading company in Bydgoszcz, attracted the greatest interest. The rig, which had been built jointly with the Institute of Mechanized Construction and Rock Mining in Warsaw, was found to be more efficient and more durable. It's not powered electrically but hydraulically, enabling heat pumps to be installed in the ground, for example. It costs zl.450,000.

There are many more examples, in many sectors. In agriculture, as acreage increases, small three- to five-hectare farms are becoming obsolete. Farmers have more and more land, so they need bigger machinery. A roller that used to be 3 meters long, today has to be at least 9-12 meters. Light tractors are being replaced with heavy ones. It's the same with other farming machinery. That's why the Industrial Institute of Agricultural Machinery in Poznań has over 50 targeted projects with us-there's huge demand for Polish machinery. We no longer have the state-owned tractor maker Ursus, the famous Bizon combine harvester producer in Płock or the Agricultural Machinery Factory in Słupsk. Instead we have 300 or 500 small companies that make farming machinery.

It's the same with foundries. The largest ones in Koluszki or Lublin are no more, but castings continue to be made on a large scale, and Poland is one of the main suppliers of automotive components in the world. Why is the automotive industry located in Poland and why do we make such a large number of cars? It's because we have suppliers of parts-castings, forgings, couplings, gears, engines…

What sectors offer the best prospects for the Polish economy and should be supported with public funds?
We've always been good at coal mining. We have a lot of experience and a well-developed system of higher education in this area. Right now Poland's future lies in the chemical processing of coal: its gasification and liquefaction. That's why I'm glad that Zakłady Azotowe Puławy SA nitrogen works and the Bogdanka Coal Basin of Lublin have signed an agreement on a strategic partnership for joint projects based on hard coal. Both companies have agreed to finance investment projects, including the construction of a coal gasification plant. Another field close to my heart is advanced foundry engineering and agricultural machinery as well as information technology. These are our main strengths.
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