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Monday, July 11, 2016, 20:19

Universities urged to make innovation practical

By Wang Yuke

HONG KONG - Encouraging universities to convert their innovative ideas into realities is the right path to a full-fledged innovation and technology industry, Under Secretary for Innovation and Technology David Chung Wai-keung said.

The essence of innovative science and technology is to address problems that we encounter in daily life and ultimately to enhance ordinary people's wellbeing, Chung said at a roundtable forum on Monday themed on innovation and technology, hosted by the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB).

Chung acknowledged that universities are a breeding ground for innovations and local universities have contributed a lot in innovation research. But Chung said he regrets that many bright ideas and research achievements fail to be turned into real products to serve practical purposes.

"Only if universities are motivated to convert their innovative ideas into applications and encouraged to conduct more applied researches, could we cultivate a healthy and sustainable innovation and technology ecosystem," Chung emphasized.

A viable way to this end is collaboration between local universities and established enterprises.

The alternative is to grow those innovative ideas bigger and bigger in startups, noted Eric Yeung, executive vice-president of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Small and Medium Business. Sufficient financial support is the overriding factor in commercialization of innovative technologies for young enterprises, Yeung said, suggesting entrepreneurs seek support from the likes of the Cyberport Accelerator Support Programme.

“We must change the age-old mindset that a good university is one that commits a lot of time and effort to producing research papers. The notion that a high-ranking university is supposed to churn out a large quantity of papers is obsolete,” Yeung said.

“Fundamentally, we must revisit the measuring tool for evaluating a university's competence,” Yeung argues, referring to the Key Performance Indicators where types and numbers of refereed academic research outputs and the average number of citations per staff member are two major considerations.

Yeung is convinced that innovative ideas and technologies must lend themselves to everyday life by catering to local demand. Israel has done a good job in this regard, Yeung said, adding that Hong Kong can take its cue from the country.

Raging conflicts have spurred Israel to come up with innovative technologies for military use. Apart from localized innovations, Israel has exported patents to other countries and regions where the demand for their products is high, Yeung added.

Jimmy Tao, chief executive officer of Vitargent, a local bioscience startup, pointed out issues surrounding patents secured by universities (behind the innovation) could be complex, which partially explains why entrepreneurs are generally reluctant to approach universities to develop innovative technologies into business.

Vitargent, which was launched based on a patented technology invented by the City University of Hong Kong, is a victim of the tricky patent issue. The patent acquired by the university has limited recognition. The patent issue may not be raised in the early stage of a startup, but it will put the company at risk of lawsuit over patent infringement in later years. Tao said his company is now applying for a new patent, which is exorbitantly costly.

The establishment of a smart city framework was another focal point during the roundtable. Eric Yeung, convener of the Smart City Consortium, thought it is imperative to make all public services-related data open and easily accessible to the public. He said Estonia's X-Road framework is exemplary; it allows the nation’s various e-services databases – both in the public and private sector – to link up and operate in harmony.

Emil Chan Ka-ho, chairman of the Association of Cloud and Mobile Computing Professionals, echoed that the city should accelerate the implementation of electronic identity, which will in turn create more businesses and job opportunities, to facilitate the development of secure and more efficient online payment systems.

Despite barriers in the way of advancing innovation and technology development, all guests who attended the forum felt upbeat about the prospects, given that Hong Kong has many intrinsic strengths and potentials.

Hong Kong’s advantages, including proximity to Shenzhen which is dubbed “the Silicon Valley of China”, free information flow and a low tax rate, give the city an edge, said Tony Chan Fan-cheong, president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The university has set up its research and development centers in mainland cities. Chan said a growing number of big mainland companies have begun to look at the city as well, launching their research and development labs here, such as TCL, Lenovo, Huawei and BGI.

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