The International Consortium on Agricultural Biotechnology Research (ICABR)


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Returns and Structure of Public-Private Knowledge Networks in Plant Biotechnology: An EU-US Comparison.
Irini Theodorakopoulou
University of Missouri-Columbia Department of Agricultural Economics

During the last two decades, genetic engineering has opened up new horizons for agriculture, that created optimism which leveraged the importance of biotechnology for all nations. In European Union, the 1993 White Paper on Growth, Competitiveness, and Employment, considered biotechnology as one of the most promising and crucial technologies for a sustainable economic development in the next century. According to Ernst and Young the number of biotechnology companies in Europe grew 23 percent between 1995 and 1996, and it continues to rise. The US industry, which began growing in the early 1980s, now includes some 1300 companies that employ almost 120 thousand people.

At the same time, one can observe several differences between the biotechnology environments of Europe and US. To what extent can these dissimilarities be attributed to idiosyncrasies of Nelsonian "national communities"? What are the structural differences of the interactions between universities, on one hand, and companies on the other, in these two regions? Is there a new role for universities and public research institutes and how is this role defined? What is the role of policy makers, and how can more effective policies be designed and implemented? It is important that all these questions are answered when considering the shape of the coming agricultural biotechnology transformation in Europe.

This paper will address these issues, by examining the formation, within each region, of networks of contacts, between public and private organizations in plant biotechnology. The reasoning is that the formation of networks between the public and private sector in biotechnology, promotes knowledge generation and diffusion and enhances learning processes that influence a nation’s innovative capacity. Thus, differences in biotechnology trajectories between Europe and US can be, largely, attributed to structural differences observed in the public-private networks within these regions.

Structure, for the purposes of this paper, is defined as the way links are formed between actors, through collaboration in research and development agreements, licensing agreements, technology exchange or through participation in joint research projects.

These types of interactions between different actors in the production, distribution and utilization of knowledge, characterize the "modern learning economy". The term is used to describe an economic system in which the significance of learning has been realized and supported. In this paper the importance of learning, and knowledge transfer for the modern learning economy, will be investigated through an empirical analysis that focuses on knowledge flows between the different actors (universities, public institutes and the industry) in plant biotechnology. Furthermore, the structural analysis of the public-private networks in plant biotechnology will provide insights useful to decision-makers in both the public and private sector, and will indicate plausible actions regarding the future of European plant biotechnology.

The biotechnology networks will be analyzed by using techniques provided by network analysis, a methodology that reveals the network structure, while at the same time it provides information for the individual actors as well.