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FRANCE
Research transfer reform to boost competitiveness
Geneviève Fioraso, France’s minister for higher education and research, has announced plans for restructuring public research to make transfer of its personnel, expertise and technology to industry easier, and thus promote innovation, competitiveness and employment.

The transfer reform includes facilitating researcher mobility between the public and private sectors and introducing courses in innovation and entrepreneurship for researchers.

Fioraso said the policy was part of the government’s global strategy in favour of research, which was geared to consistently support basic research and develop technological research.

She said that awards for French researchers – including those of the European Research Council, Nobel prizes and Fields medals – were evidence that France’s public research was at the highest international level in many scientific fields. But its economic impact was not always as great as that of other big developed countries.

Ministry figures show that research and development (R&D) represents 2.26% of French gross domestic product, compared with 2.9% in Germany. French companies develop only a third the number of patents of their German peers each year – 20,000 against 60,000.

Economic impact resulted from “a specific activity indicated at international level by transfer – transfer of people by researcher mobility, primarily PhDs, transfer and sharing of knowledge by R&D partnerships between public research and companies, and lastly technology transfers, particularly with the creation of enterprises and commercial agreements”, Fioraso told government ministers.

She recalled that it was the socialist-led government of Lionel Jospin that had given a major boost to transfer with its 1999 law on innovation and research. But the accumulation of numerous organisations and proliferation of project bids had blurred the clarity of the French system and damaged its efficiency.

She said there was an urgent need to overhaul transfer policy, adopting the best international practices, so research could play a full part in the national effort for competitiveness.

Fioraso presented 15 measures aimed at improving the economic impact of public research, agreed jointly with Arnaud Montebourg, the minister of economic regeneration, and Fleur Pellerin, minister of state for small and medium-sized enterprises, innovation and digital economy. The measures are to:

  • Confirm and clarify the public research transfer operation in the Code de la Recherche.
  • Take transfer into account when assessing researchers’ careers.
  • Introduce a new set of indicators for better monitoring during transfer operations.
  • Set up a strategic committee to oversee transfer at site level.
  • Create a training course for public research executives.
  • Develop training programmes in transfer for professionals, and introduce a specific diploma.
  • Establish a compulsory course in innovation and entrepreneurship in all higher education courses.
  • Simplify administration governing intellectual property in public research.
  • Develop the use of public sector intellectual property throughout Europe.
  • Support initiatives in favour of transfer towards small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).
  • Include a programme for SMEs (joint academic-SME laboratories) and ‘challenge’ the culture in programmes of the Agence Nationale de la Recherche.
  • Increase direct contacts between researchers and SMEs by setting up a research-SME social network and an advice system for SMEs to consult researchers.
  • Develop employment of PhD-holders in SMEs through the CIFRE (Industrial Training Conventions through Research) system.
  • Set up a coherent support programme for transfer through creation of enterprises (awareness-raising, career enhancement, incubation, activation).
  • Strengthen research into the economics of innovation in support of public policy.

Fioraso said the reform would be implemented following the outcomes of the Assises de l’enseignement supérieur et de la recherche, the national consultation on higher education and research taking place until the end of November, and of an inquiry into optimising the innovation transfer system, being carried out by Pierre Tambourin, a biologist and CEO of Genopole, and Jean-Luc Beylat, president of Alcatel-Lucent Bell Labs France.
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