|The catch-up project is aimed at illuminating the key mechanisms and institutions that, in the current world context, can enable nations behind the scientific and technological frontier to catch-up, and how the opportunities and obstacles to catch-up today differ from those that faced countries that caught up in an earlier era. The project involves a large network of researchers and research organizations in different countries, both developed and less developed.
The catch-up process involves in an essential way the learning and mastering of technologies, practices more generally, that are in use in countries operating at or near the frontier. However, such learning by no means entails blind copying. Indeed in a wide variety of areas of economic activity an important part of the catch-up process entails tailoring technologies and other practices to the particular conditions of the developing country. The project takes a broad view of the technologies and practices that need to be mastered in catching up seeing these as ranging from sophisticated product designs, to procedures used in productive agriculture, to effective public health practices, to air traffic control systems, to capabilities to build and protect clean urban water supply systems. What is involved in catch-up here clearly goes well beyond engineering learning. The needed capabilities do often involve mastery of complex technologies but often involve as well modes of organizing, coordinating, and managing activities. In many cases these latter capabilities are more difficult to master than the needed engineering know-how.
The idea for a project on catch-up, which would both look at the present day challenges, and the historical experience, has enlisted a group of the world’s foremost scholars of technological advance, whose home institutions now are acting as co-sponsors of the project along with the Columbia Earth Institute. Together the sponsors have brought into the project a very able group of researchers from developing countries, who in turn have attracted into the project their own colleagues. A number of research projects now are underway, led and staffed largely by researchers from developing countries.
1) The Roles of Research at Universities and Public Labs in Economic Development:
This is a multi country study, focused largely on the roles of research at universities and public labs in manufacturing development. Preliminary exploration suggests strongly that the fields of public sector research and the mechanisms of interaction with industry differ significantly across industries. However, in virtually all cases the most effective mechanisms involve significant interaction with the user community. The public sector research institutions that have been effective at supporting economic development have not been ivory towers. Funded by IDRC, Canada, the study is coordinated by Eduardo Albuquerque and Keun Lee.
2) Sectoral Innovation Systems in Development:
This project, is funded by several sources, and is headed by Franco Malerba. The heart of the project is a set of studies focused on particular industries – agricultural supply and processing, automobile production, pharmaceuticals, telecommunications, software, microelectronics – examining how these industries developed in a number of different countries, and focusing on the mechanisms and factors that have enabled successful development of capabilities. It is clear that there are significant differences across industries in the kind and operation of needed supporting infrastructure and institutions, and a principal objective of this project is to lay these out.
3) Economic Development in the Shadow of TRIPS:
This project, funded by the Ford Foundation and several Japanese sources, has two main parts. One part, led by Akira Goto, Hiro Odagiri, and Atsushi Sunami, is organized around a set of country studies. Each country study is exploring the mechanisms through which technological competences have been acquired in important industries, and the intellectual property regimes under which development proceeded. A central question being explored in each case is what difference it likely would have made had the IP regimes been TRIPS compliant. The second part of the project, led by Bhaven Sampat and Richard Nelson, involves detailed case studies of several countries regarding how IP law and procedure has been changed in response to TRIPS. As work on both parts of the project progresses, attention will be directed to developing guidelines for IP reform so as to facilitate economic development under the new constraints. Attention also will be directed to identifying important areas where TRIPS should be changed.
4) The Nature of Innovative Firms in Developing Countries:
This project, under the leadership of John Cantwell and Edmund Amann, will focus on the characteristics of firms in developing counties that have achieved strong capabilities, and have successfully designed and produced products that differ significantly from the ones that industry leaders in high income countries have been producing and marketing. Those involved in the project are particularly interested in the question of whether the innovative firms have been indigenous, or branches of multinationals, or cooperative ventures, and on how this depends on the industry and the country.