Though I'm of liberal descent, I'm an unabashed member in very good standing of Capitalist Pigs LLP. The private sector is my weapon of choice for most human development issues, and the venture capitalist who unearths the upstarts is my chosen shooter.
Thus, years ago when I wrote a syndicated column, I put an address, not a company or individual or product on my annual Most Valuable Player list. In short, 3000 Sand Hill Road, just a few hundred yards from the border of the Stanford campus and in the heart of Silicon Valley (it is, arguably, the heart of Silicon Valley) was home to the greatest density per square meter of venture capitalists, including an unfair share of the best of the best.
I'm still the champion of the VCs, the good ones at least. But a recently released report reminds that there is indeed more to economic vitality than the private sector. The Monday (05.07) Financial Times reports on a study just released by Marks & Clerk, described as an "intellectual property firm." The topic is more or less the attributes of the engine of the jillion revs biotech industry-revolution.
And the answer is: It ain't (mostly) the VC-funded start-ups. It is, instead, primarily universities and institutes. Though there are many other important ingredients, the measure is the 5-year (2002–2006) history of industry patenting. And the result surprised even the authors, the FT reports.
The top three are the Japanese Science and Technology Agency, with 1,022 "biotech patent families," the University of California (543) and the U.S. government (443, mostly from the NIH). Private sector kingpin Genentech did indeed take the 4th spot at 421—it is a rare non-university entry in the top 25 ranking.
My point, mostly, is to remind myself, and you if you need it, that in such critical areas the government and the universities, have for decades played a, and often the, leading role. My ignorance is not infinite—I've often called for very aggressive gov't and university R&D support. And, alas, the government support of late hasn't matched the need, and certainly the magnitude of the opportunity.
Economically and in terms of overall power ranking, we and others such as Western Europe, Southeast Asia and Japan will rise—or fall—primarily on the basis of our R&D prowess. (And, of great import indeed, the private sector skills at translating research into products and their distribution.)
I, at least, need to acknowledge the decisive role of our Universities (I'm lucky enough to be a graduate of two of the world's best—and I love them both) and to become a far more vigorous and vocal advocate.
At any rate, very, very interesting ... eh?