Research and development: The practical side of things

  • TECH
  • Monday, 21 Jul 2014

INCREASE AWARENESS: Researchers need to be more market driven in their approach in order to be more successful in commercialisation, according to Junaidi Said.

As a researcher, it’s not enough just to have an innovative idea. You need to be aware of real market needs so that you’re developing a product that is useful to society. 

“There’s a very low success rate of commercialisation for new products generated from research. This is simply because there’s always a gap between researchers and the business world,” explains Junaidi Said, chief executive officer at the Human Life Advancement Foundation (HLAF). 

“Most of the time, researchers are not very market driven when they produce something. They need to redirect their research to suit what the market wants so that the rate of success for the commercialisation of their products becomes higher.” 

The HLAF seeks to promote greater knowledge creation, innovation and technology transfer within the nation and act as a middle person to connect researchers with those from the business world. 

In order to develop more relevant products for commercialisation, Junaidi advises researchers to make the effort to mix around with people outside their field of work and to also read widely and listen more intently to what others are saying. 

“You need to be more macro in your thinking and aware of your surroundings,” Junaidi adds. 

He identifies the field of life sciences as one of the research areas that has the most market demand currently. 

“Everybody is going deeper into life sciences because people are so conscious about their health these days,” Junaidi says, pointing out that there has been a huge influx of health supplements in the market of late. 

Widen your scope: Junaidi Said encourages researchers to widen their thinking when commercialising the results of their research. 

Setting the stage

Meanwhile, Chandrasekhar Spike Narayan, director of science and technology at the research division of IBM’s Almaden Research centre says it’s important to have a proper ecosystem in place in order to spur more innovation. 

“The ecosystem plays a dominating role in helping to move innovations from the lab to the marketplace,” he says. 

According to Chandrasekhar, the outlook is positive for the research and development (R&D) ecosystem in Malaysia at the moment. 

“I see a lot of good signs of all the right things being done,” he says. “The notion of public-private partnerships that’s being addressed is a crucial concept that will help move innovation forward within Malaysia.”

However, he says there needs to be more attention given to fostering meaningful partnerships between universities and industry players across various sectors. 

In particular, Chandrasekhar highlights cross-industry collaboration as a great catalyst for sparking off innovative ideas. 

“Identifying the right kinds of partners and forming alliances with them is very important to be able to move inventions to the next level,” he says. 

He draws on the example of the semiconductor industry, where he says concepts such as cross licensing and intellectual property (IP) sharing are commonplace. 

“In my opinion, I would say it has accelerated the pace of new product introduction within this industry greatly. Had it not been for cross licensing, a lot of the developments that we’ve seen today would not be possible,” says Chandrasekhar. 

He adds that most people wrongly perceive IP sharing as an activity that will create a competitive disadvantage. 

“All parties that share can be equally successful in a venture because they service different segments of the market,” he explains.

Besides this, Chandrasekhar says government policy is a useful tool to encourage members of public to adopt new technologies. 

“You have to create an incentive that makes people want to get into it and that usually comes in the form of rebates or other forms of incentive programmes that the government can put into place,” he says. 

He gives the example of the adoption of electric cars and solar roofs in the state of California in the United States, which took off due to local policies that supported the use of both technologies. 

According to Chandrasekhar, materials innovation is among the current R&D trends. 

“Materials innovation is dominating performance improvements and is changing the nature of research, especially in the semiconductor industry. If you look at most of the global challenges we have today, many of them are challenges limited by the lack of new materials,” he says. 

“That is why putting effort and resources into discovery of materials is very important. And even though the research we do is for semiconductors, the same materials could be used for other things as well.” 

Good signs:  Chandrasekhar Spike Narayan says there are a lot of things being done right in the Malaysian innovation ecosystem currently. 

Deciding wisely 

Dr Won Jong Yoo, professor at the department of nanoscience and technology at the Advanced Institute of Nanotechnology at the Sung Kyun Kwan University, South Korea is an example of a researcher whose focus is on the development of new materials. 

He is currently researching graphene, a two-dimensional carbon substance. 

“It has a large capacitance because the surface area (of graphene) is larger compared to three-dimensional materials. Therefore, it can store more energy. It is also independent of applied force so the electrons in graphene move very fast. That’s how we can make the speed of devices faster,” he explains. 

Won says he hopes to see implementations of graphene in digital devices in around five to 10 years’ time. He predicts that use of materials like graphene can help lower the cost of production for digital devices. 

In addition, he says graphene will come in handy when used for sensors. 

“Carbon is not harmful to the body so it’s good for biosensors that are injected into the human body. As it has a large surface area, it will be very sensitive in detecting input from its environment,” Won says. 

As exciting as it is to work on the cutting edge of scientific discovery, he says it is important for companies to tread carefully when deciding between opting to do independent R&D development or obtaining a technology transfer from a third party. 

“Decision making is very important at the higher levels (of management),” he says, adding that corporate leaders need to have the right amount of technical knowledge. 

In Won’s case, his research is being funded by Samsung and he says the company’s leadership is well versed in this area. He claims that this is what has helped them succeed in recent times. 

Another factor that he feels contributes to commercial success in the tech industry is the ability to adapt to change and to stay in touch with the latest R&D developments. 

“Samsung monitors the progress of technology and maintains good relationships with leading scientists. They survey new technologies that come out and have to often assess them to determine which technologies are worth picking up on as some may be premature,” he says. “They are also very serious about the recruitment of young talent.” 

Lastly, Won says education also plays a crucial part. 

“Koreans are well educated. A big contributor to Samsung’s success is also the fact that they have trained people well and that they work hard,” he says.

Stay relevant: Being able to adapt to change and staying in touch with the latest research and development discoveries are crucial to commercial success, according to Dr Won Jong Yoo. 

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