Intellectual Capital War…Intellectual Capital Emergency!

Michael D. Moberly   August 7, 2012

Let me start this post by stating unequivocally, the title is, in no way, a metaphor for the seemingly endless, so-called patent wars!

As far as I know, during the 70th episode of the television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the phrase “whoever acquires the most toys wins” was expressed.  While many of us, myself included have joked about this seemingly non-descript phrase, or perhaps good naturedly mocked one of our neighbors for their seemingly perpetual acquisition of ‘toys’, i.e., cars, riding lawn mowers, HD TV’s and sound systems, etc.  It’s certainly not inconceivable then to consider something similar is occurring with respect to the rising trend of intellectual capital dependent economies whereby knowledge (intellectual capital) is one of the most highly sought after commodities (intangible assets) aside from the basic necessities for sustaining life, or making life better.

In other words, the demand for intellectual capital (knowledge) from governments, industry sectors, and universities, etc., emanate from the well understood concept that knowledge and intellectual capital equates with economic and its closely linked brother, political power.  Thus, the absolute need to attract, acquire, sustain, and effectively exploit the most current, relevant, and forward looking intellectual capital – knowledge possible is a necessary prelude for developing countries particularly, to achieve the much coveted (a.) respected player status, and (b.) a sought after inviteee to the global innovation table.

Not winning, or at least medaling in some portion of the ‘knowledge wars’ (a phrase I believe was coined by Sean Coughlan, BBC’s education correspondent in an article he authored – reported in late 2011) can be devastating, often irreversible, and puts governments, countries, and industry sectors nearer the ‘intellectual capital cliff’.

Knowledge produces power, more specifically, knowledge produces economic power, Coughlan quite correctly says.  Neither is particularly surprising because we are, don’t forget, in the midst of a very long term, perhaps permanent, knowledge (intangible asset) based global economy which most duly recognize.  However, there are persistent and increasingly predatorial initiatives to acquire the type of economic power that only originates from the development, funding, nurturing, and/or acquisition of intellectual capital and its cousins, structural and relationship capital.  That’s because, among other things, intellectual (relationship and structural) capital, are key drivers that render investments in research and innovation attractive which in turn, hopefully produce innovative and sustainable products and entire industry sectors.

Put another way, most countries, universities, and investor groups are looking for the right combination of intellectual (capital) ingredients that will turn university research and technology transfer projects into corporations, ala Google, Apple, Oracle, and country specific ‘silicon valley’s’ across the globel that are the foundations for skilled jobs to replace those lost in previous financial calamities, and otherwise, merely try to keep engage and keep pace in the increasingly globally inter-connected and intellectual capital dependent economies and business transaction environments.

For any country (government) or company not to invest resources toward developing and nurturing a permanent foundation of sustainable intellectual capital would, and should be “unthinkable”, says Maire Geoghegan-Quinn, the European Commissioner responsible for research, innovation and science, who is trying to spur the European Union to keep pace in turning ideas into industries.  She announced £6bn funding to kick-start such projects in 2012.  The aim of that funding is to support 16,000 universities, research teams and businesses, because a million new research jobs, she no doubt correctly claims, will be needed to keep pace with global competitors in the health, energy and digital economy sectors.

Some characterize the situation this way, ‘we need to re-boot economies with the focus being on permanent growth of intellectual capital’.  I agree!

(This post was inspired by a fine article authored by Sean Coughlan, BBC’s education correspondent in September, 2011)


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