Innovation is multifaceted


Innovation started taking on a more prominent role in Malaysia in 2004 when the Ministry of Science, Technology and the Environment was renamed to the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. It was also from this point on that the government started demanding more output based results from the research that was being conducted in public universities and research institutes.

In fact, critics point to the fact the government investment into R&D is still low as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP). This is often used as a leading indicator of a nation’s commitment to putting into action its rhetoric about the importance of innovation. This is because all government’s talk about the importance of innovation and high value creating output but few put enough resources into it.

So, where does Malaysia stand, especially in comparison with Japan, South Korea and Taiwan? Let’s look at the data available from 2004 to 2006, the year innovation was added to the ministry of Science.

If you look at Korea and Taiwan, both have large pool of scientists and highly skilled technologists with Taiwan also seeing many of its talent return from overseas. The percentage of Malaysia’s gross R&D expenditure in GDP is not only very small in comparison with Japan, Korea and Taiwan but fell over the period of 2004-2006.

In 2006, Japan’s percentage of R&D expenditure in GDP stood at 3.4 per cent, South Korea 3.23 per cent and Taiwan 2.58 per cent while Malaysia is 0.64 per cent.

Not only the number of researchers and engineers per million persons in Malaysia is extremely small compared with Japan, Korea and Taiwan, the number fell sharply over the period 2004-2006. In 2002, the number of researchers and engineers in Malaysia were 295 per million population. It increased to 503 in 2004 but declined to 367 in 2006. Japan recorded 5,148 researchers and engineers per million population, while Korea and Taiwan recording 4,162 and 4,159 respectively in 2006.

Now, when talking about innovation, it is easy to get lost in the various data available. For instance, in 2011, Samsung surprisingly owned 4,868 patents in the US while Apple owned a rather pale 676 US patents. Because Samsung owns seven times more patents than Apple in Apple’s home territory itself, does this make Samsung more innovative? No, but it does clearly indicate the intention of the company and corporate direction.

Incidentally, Samsung and Apple may not have developed all the technology in respect of their respective devices, but would have either acquired patent rights or patent/technology licenses from external organizations or inventors. Which is an interesting point about innovation. It need not be developed by a country or company. It can be acquired or licensed.

Sometimes, the various data also does not represent an accurate picture of changes going on at ground level. And there are many changes going on in Malaysia, where there is a sharp awareness on the need to be more innovative by creating not just the physical support but soft support in the form of policies and funding to create a better environment to foster and spur innovation.

AIM’s intention is to create a mindset change among Malaysians where innovation becomes a part of the national psyche

Probably the loudest indication of the country’s desire to become more innovative and embed a culture of innovation and thinking out of the box is reflected in the creation of the National Innovation Policy in 2009 which led to the creation of Agensi Inovasi Malaysia or AIM.

The intention is to create nothing less that a mindset change among Malaysians where innovation will eventually become part of the national psyche. Naturally this is a long term goal and there are various projects being implemented under this ambitious goal.

But make no mistake, the need to be innovative is not just a top down push. The private sector and grass roots level society is also involved.

In the next two weeks, Business Circle will highlight the various initiatives and be a platform for some interesting people to share their perspectives on what innovation is because innovation can mean different things to different people and organisations.

For the record, The American Heritage Dictionary (2006), defines “innovation” as:

1. The act of introducing something new. 2. Something newly introduced.

In Oxford American, however, it is:

Which definition works for you? or do you have your own?


Photo credit: Flickr user Ben Heine

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