25 May 2005 17:07 [Source: ICIS news]
LONDON (CI)--DuPont executive Ellen Kullman has highlighted the global interdependence of technology innovation. These days no nation, and certainly no company, works in a vacuum or rather in an environment where it can conduct meaningful research and product development in geographic isolation.
US chemicals giant DuPont has recognised for some time that its businesses are moving eastwards. And as the centre of gravity of the firm shifts so do the technological resources to underpin its product lines. But as Kullman noted in a speech at the 2005 Fortune Global Forum in Beijing, DuPont does not think as some do that Asia will become the focal point of technology innovation. It will, however, become an important contributor to an interdependent whole.
DuPont believes in a model it calls “interdependent innovation”. At any one time German engineering, Italian design, Japanese efficiency, French cuisine or American IT (information technology) might be important but ultimately they can complement one another.
DuPont is developing its research and product development capability in the East but it operates a system by which it has basic corporate research facilities in the US with targeted research & development (R&D) and applications development close to customers in key markets. In each market it collaborates with customers, the top universities and research institutes.
This matrix approach seems to work and increasingly Asia is playing a larger part in the whole. This is hardly surprising given the rapid growth of markets for products of all sorts in China and elsewhere.
DuPont is in the process of putting labs in Japan, China, South Korea, Malaysia and India. Just last month chief technology officer Tom Connelly cut the tape on a $15m (Euro12m) research facility in Shanghai which eventually will house more than 400 scientists and engineers. The laboratory will be the focus of work with customers in the electronics, automotive, food, plastics and construction sectors.
Kullman, who is group vice president for safety & protection, highlighted just one development in China that highlights what can flow from greater technical interdependence. The company’s Nomex fibre is used in personal protection equipment providing thermal protection. But other applications include a paper sheet form that can be used in electrical transformers. In trying to sell Nomex into China in this application, however, DuPont ran into a problem. It discovered that the Chinese power transmission sector was not ready for the application because transformers were not reliable enough. Building a market for the product involved creating a model for interdependent innovation that effectively upgraded Chinese transformer manufacture.
Kullman made the valid point in Beijing that interdependent innovation cannot be driven by industry alone but requires the assistance of governments using their role to set up technology parks and develop expertise in key technology areas. Given the right conditions, companies can move in not simply to exploit the ideas being developed in these hotbeds of innovation but to facilitate information dissemination regionally and possibly globally.
To operate efficiently, however, such technology interdependence requires trust on both sides and Kullman noted the important role government has to play in protecting intellectual property rights (IPR). She suggested that progress is being made in China on IPR. However, she accepted that there is much to do.
DuPont will continue to work with China and other governments to promote the laws and systems that protect IPR, she said. “We believe that strong intellectual property regulations and enforcement provide the incentive to drive local innovation and ultimately benefit the consumer as well as local innovators,” she declared.
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