Rationalizing patent systemKorea is a big spender in research and development (R&D). The spending ratio against the GDP is at 4.53 percent — second only to Israel with 4.94 percent. Both governments are eager in their R&D drive, but Korea does not generate as good of results as Israel.
Israel has become a start-up hotbed on the back of state R&D sponsorship. Mobileye, a vision-safety tech company Intel took over for $15.4 billion in 2017, is among thousands of venture enterprises with proprietary technologies in the country. Many of them have become unicorns with a valuation of over $1 billion or went public on the New York Stock Exchange.
In Korea, R&D fruition has been poor. Few people set up promising start-ups or become employed by large companies. Korea ranks first in the count of patent registrations against $100 billion GDP with 7,779 cases, ahead of China at 5,520 cases. The employment rate of patents registered by universities and their research arms, where 70 percent of government R&D budget goes, stops at a meager 33.7 percent. Nine out of 10 patents companies file become applied, whereas seven out of 10 coming out of academia go unused. Government-sponsored R&D activities inevitably raise questions of money well spent.
Lack of expertise and administrative regulation is one reason cited by universities and research institutes. Well underscored by its fast assistance to the Covid-19 vaccine development, the U.S. government steps in through big fiscal support if a project is urgent and necessary. In Korea, government officials are busy breaking up R&D funding to avoid their liability in the possible failure in big spending and dole out subsidies to the needy with near-sightedness.
That’s not all. Local universities compete in the number of research projects that lead to little meaningful output. There is talk that their budgeting depends on politicking and networking instead of on the research outline. Some sneer that R&D projects are a sophisticated way of ripping off the government.
The Moon Jae-in administration must re-examine the R&D support system so as not to waste tax funds — and so that outcome can deserve the world’s top spending rank.