Ireland punches above its weight in R&D

20 Jun 2006

Ireland, for a country of its size, is credited with producing a disproportionately high number of patents for technologies that are widely in use at communications giant, Nortel, a senior executive told Some 23 inventors at the company’s Galway operation yesterday received a total of 61 patent awards.

The news came on the heels of a major €2.7bn investment by the Irish Government in a science and technology strategy that will extend to 2008. This funding builds on the very substantial funding of €658m per annum in 2006 allocated to the strategy and includes a priority commitment of an additional €192 million for 2007 and 2008 over existing investment.

In terms of Nortel’s Galway operation, where some 300 people are employed, half of whom are in research and development (R&D), a number of the actual patents achieved by staff are now in successful commercial use by the global corporation.

In an interview with Scott Wickware, vice-president of strategy and operations, said the percentage of filings from Nortel’s Galway staff is considered to be very high by an industry standards.

On average it takes up to three years for a patent filing to be assessed and subsequently granted by the relevant authorities.

Wickware said: “Ireland distributes a disproportionately high number of patents for the country. As a technology company, this is something we value a lot.”

After some 33 years in Galway, where the company began its life manufacturing large PBX systems, the entire Nortel corporation has moved towards outsourcing the manufacturing function to companies such as Flextronics. For this reason, an unrelenting focus on R&D and creating intellectual property (IP) is the lifeblood of the company, Wickware said.

In terms of the company’s investment in the Irish economy, Wickware said a partnership with Galway university over the decades was vital. “Our investment in specific reasons usually is driven by proximity to major customers, linkages to universities and a good cost base. We tend to go for not-too-obvious locations but often because there’s a university in the area.

“There are a couple of things Ireland has going for it in terms of quality universities and a focus on education and innovation. Key factors in the future will be infrastructure in terms of broadband capabilities throughout the country, such as a high-speed backbone and wireless access.”

However, Wickware did express some concern about Ireland’s road networks and called for a better road network between Shannon and Galway. “Getting from A to B would make it easier to attract more investment,” he opined.

As a company, Wickware said Nortel is positioning itself to lead across all the key networking platforms particularly those that support voice over internet protocol (VoIP). “Nortel is investing in technologies that get businesses the best access to high-speed backbone; these include wireless technologies such as UMTS (universal mobile telecommunications system) and HSDPA (high-speed download packet access), which is soon to be launched by Vodafone. We are also working on forthcoming technologies such as WiMax. These technologies will prove vital in all the major industries, including the medical sector.”

Asked about yesterday’s merging of the networking equipment divisions of Nokia and Siemens, Wickware said it was too early to assess the impact on the market. “Consolidation can be a good thing; on the other hand it can bring the industry up to scale. Only time will tell.”

By John Kennedy