The Paris-based Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development has confirmed what most Americans have known for years: the U.S. is dropping the ball on innovation.
Once considered the world’s leader in the stuff — indeed, America was built on innovation —the OECD said in its review of the U.S. economy that “the United States is losing its cutting edge in innovation.” The prognosis not only affects long-term growth, but also current living standards.
But the OECD is only the latest to point out that American innovation is being overtaken by other countries. During his State of the Union Address earlier this year, President Barrack Obama said, “the first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.” Calling America a nation of “Google and Facebook,” he said, “Innovation doesn’t just change our lives; it is how we make our living.”
Last November, President Obama signed the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012, for the Department of Commerce and its National Institute of Standards and Technology. Yet, no funding was made available for the Commerce Department’s Technology Innovation Program, which helped developed small disk drives used in iPhones, Xbox and consumer similar products. The program is now being shut down.
While the U.S. economy still appears to be innovative, “fissures have begun to appear,” the OECD said in its review. The agency said the government should limit reductions in R&D budgets, reinforce patent protection and, above all, encourage education development in engineering and related fields.
“Education reform is needed to strengthen achievement and to address lagging tertiary attainment, notably in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics [STEM],” the OECD said.
One study, “Patent Pending: How Immigrants Are Reinventing The American Economy,” found that foreign students are leading American students at U.S. universities in cutting-edge innovation and are behind an overwhelming number of patents for new inventions.
“More than three out of every four patents at the top-10 patent-producing U.S. universities had at least one foreign-born inventor,” said the OECD report. The study also found that 99% of the patents by these foreign-born inventors were in [STEM fields. It also found the U.S. will face a shortfall of 230,000 qualified, advanced-degree STEM workers by 2018.
The U.S. produces 120,000 engineering graduates a year. In comparison, India produces about a million, according to various news reports.
Richard Bendis, president of BioHealth Innovation Inc., recently addressed the House of Representative’s Science, Space and Technology Committee’s Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation. “Competing globally today, the United States needs to develop a national innovation strategy that leverages federal assets and programs with regional academic, industry and non-governmental organizations,” he told the committee.
“More importantly, the strategy needs an implementation plan and leadership group to make certain America regains its innovation leadership and strengthens its position for the future.”
That leadership must come from the very top — and do more than merely talk about a problem that everyone knows about.