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José Manuel Silva

general director for Research at the European Commission

He joined the European Commission in 1986 and since then he has hold important positions within the Directorate General for Agriculture. In 1999 he was appointed Director General for Agriculture and Rural Development. Jose Manuel Silva Rodriguez (Galicia, Spain, 1949) is since 1st January 2006 head of the Directorate General for Research.

Which incentives to commercialization of research results and tech transfer foresees the current European Research and innovation framework?

While the actual commercialization of research results is an option that has to be explored and tackled directly by the SMEs, the Commission has launched programmes and mechanisms that help them grow. In order to help SMEs to access loans and equity to develop their business, a series of financial instruments have been set up under the Competiveness and Innovation programme. Furthermore, to help companies access the resources needed to launch ambitious research activities, the European Commission and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have joined forces to set up the Risk Sharing Finance Facility, which is an innovative scheme to improve access to debt financing for private companies or public institutions promoting activities in the field of research, technological development demonstration, and innovation investments.

Technology transfer is a key underlying preoccupation for the EC and a lot of attention and specific tools have been set up in this respect. In particular, to allow industry and SMEs to benefit from the exploitable research results and technologies that emerge from the Framework Programme, a powerful partners/ideas search engine has been set up in the CORDIS Technology Marketplace site which is fully devoted to technology transfer modalities. Also, in order to tackle specific technology transfer issues within each area and over the different Framework Programmes several accompanying measures aimed at networking research producers and prospective users have been launched.

Moreover, the European Commission adopted a Recommendation on April 10th on the management of intellectual property in knowledge transfer activities of universities and other public research organisations. This Recommendation is addressed to all Member States to help them develop or adapt policies or guidelines on the management on intellectual property and knowledge transfer activities, and intends to promote the exploitation of publicly-funded research results to ultimately better convert knowledge into socio-economic benefits.

How to promote the participation of small biotech companies in big consortia within the 7th FP and how can European regions get a higher return from the programme?

Our Programmes have always been designed to attract industrial participants, particularly SMEs. FP7 is even more favourable for SMEs participation, having introduced higher funding contributions and better protection of intellectual property rules. Although projects in biotechnology might tackle various facets and large consortia are a possibility, biotech SMEs can very profitably participate in small projects with few participants.

However, whatever the size of the consortium, there are companies which do not have the capacity to engage directly in active research. This is why the programme "Research for the benefit of SMEs" aims at helping SMEs outsource research activities, increase their research efforts, acquire technological know-how, extend their networks, and better exploit research results. There are two main funding schemes: research for SMEs (supporting small groups of innovative SMEs to solve common or complementary technological problems) and research for SME associations (supporting SME associations and SME groupings to develop technical solutions to problems common to large numbers of SMEs in specific industrial sectors or segments of the value chain).

As it can be seen there are several opportunities and European regions would get a higher return from FP7 already by simply providing applicants with timely information and advice. In addition, the Commission is developing guidelines to enable applicants to establish closer interactions between the Framework programme, the CIP (Competitiveness and Innovation Framework Programme) and the support for European regions.

Which possibilities do programs such as Eurostars, Interreg or ERAnet open to biotech companies? Do you think the complexity of the system puts obstacles to small companies’ participation?

Of the three mentioned programmes, Eurostars is the only one particularly devoted to the participation of innovative SME's. Eurostars projects are European Research and Development projects, aiming at the development of a new product, process or service. Moreover, the main participants of the collaborating participants must be the research-performing SME.

Interreg is a regional development programme aiming at stimulating interregional cooperation through the formation of networks. It focuses on policy development through collaboration of national, regional or local authorities.

The ERAnet scheme was created in FP6 with the aim of improving the coordination of national and regional research programmes. The partners in ERAnet projects are funding organizations from the participating countries, so in principle, the Commission is only funding coordination activities and not research. Then, most of the funded ERAnets launch their own calls for research projects. Given that these research projects are funded with national/regional resources, it is the participants who decide if enterprises can be part of the consortium. An exception to this is the ERAnet EurotransBio. The strategic objective of the third ETB call for proposals is to foster the competitiveness of European’s biotechnology industry by supporting the research intensive small and medium sized enterprises and their strategic partnerships.

Which is the role of the bioclusters and metaclusters in the European Union?

Clusters are part of the EU innovation policy, in close interaction and cooperation with the Directorate-General for Enterprise and Industry, which focuses on the policy context, enhancing general and more targeted support measures. For instance, in the area of life sciences a study to understand the dynamics of a few outstanding European Biotech clusters has been financed. Special emphasis is made in all these studies on the research and development aspects inside the network activities, including technology transfer issues.

Which is the European Research Council scope in the academic and industrial areas and how will this initiative promote tech transfer?

The European Research Council (ERC) has been set up to support "frontier research". The term 'frontier research' was coined for ERC activities since they will be addressed towards fundamental advances at and beyond the 'frontier' of knowledge. It is important to remember that the ERC is the operating agency of the "Ideas" Specific Programme of FP7 and therefore all the research activities by definition will be interconnected with the technology transfer tools available.

By allocating grants solely on the basis of scientific excellence, the ERC will confer status and visibility to European researchers and research teams, both within Europe and across the world. Peer-reviewed grants from the ERC will provide a prestigious form of recognition for individuals, and thus help to support, shape and establish the research leaders of today and tomorrow. The ERC grants schemes will have a benchmarking effect, enabling researchers and their institutions to compare themselves against peers elsewhere in Europe. ERC-funded research will also expand the pool of talent available to the private sector, enabling companies to easily identify research leaders with high standards who can help turn research developments into exploitable opportunities.

Locations hosting advanced research facilities are attractive both to active, innovating companies, and to ambitious researchers, innovators and entrepreneurs who wish to make a mark in their field. ERC efforts to make Europe a more attractive base for leading-edge research will bring corresponding benefits in availability of creative skilled personnel, centres where forward-looking companies can co-locate, and markets for advanced products and services. Skilled individuals emerging from ERC-funded research will have the ability to assume leadership positions in industry, applying their skills and knowledge to help organisations improve their competitiveness and efficiency.

In which stage of decision is the organisation of KICs? Some clues on how to properly manage them…?

The EIT is the first European initiative to integrate fully the three sides of the "Knowledge Triangle" (Higher Education, Research, Business-Innovation) and will seek to stand out as a world-class innovation-orientated reference model, inspiring and driving change in existing education and research institutions.

Based on partnerships known as Knowledge and Innovation Communities (KICs) -highly integrated public-private networks of universities, research organisations and businesses- the EIT's activities will be coordinated by a Governing Board ensuring its strategic management. Direct involvement of business stakeholders, including SMEs, in all strategic, operational and financial aspects of the Institute is the cornerstone of the initiative. Operating across Europe, the KICs will be selected by the EIT Governing Board on a strategic basis as responses to the foremost challenges currently facing the Union. The first areas covered by the Institute are likely to include -amongst others- climate change, renewable energies and the next generation of information and communication technologies. The Governing Board will propose draft seven-year Strategic Innovation Agendas (SIA) outlining the EIT's long-term priorities and financial needs. The first SIA will be presented by the Commission to the Council and the European Parliament by 2011 at the latest.

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