STEM Education

Innovation Fact of the Week: Students Are More Likely to Pursue STEM Degrees in College If They Are Exposed to More Science Subjects During High School

(Ed Note: The “Innovation Fact of the Week” appears as a regular feature in each edition of ITIF’s weekly email newsletter. Sign up today.)

STEM workers punch above their weight in contributing to innovation and productivity in the digital economy. But economic projections show that demand for STEM skills is growing faster than the number of workers with STEM skills. Part of the problem has been that countries’ investments in increasing STEM graduates have not yet produced appreciable results—the level of interest and graduation rates in STEM fields both have remained stable since the 1980s.

But if countries can get their STEM education policies right, they will be well positioned to capture maximum benefit from the expanding digital economy. London School of Economics research assistant Marta De Philippis finds that tweaking subject curriculum can foster a student’s interest in STEM fields. Using education data from the U.K., she estimates that when a student takes more science classes in secondary school, it increases the student’s probability of enrolling in a university STEM program by 1.5 percentage points, and it increases the probability that the student will eventually graduate

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Countefeit

Innovation Fact of the Week: Counterfeit Goods Accounted for 2.5% of Global Trade in 2013

(Ed Note: The “Innovation Fact of the Week” appears as a regular feature in each edition of ITIF’s weekly email newsletter. Sign up today.)

Companies depend on intellectual property rights, including patents, trademarks, and copyrights, to derive revenue from their innovations. When counterfeiters flout these intellectual property rights to cash in on ideas that aren’t theirs, they undermine the economy by eroding the incentive to innovate. This is a huge problem worldwide. Indeed, by analyzing the manifests of detained shipments of counterfeit goods, the OECD has estimated that this misappropriated revenue stream totaled $461 billion in 2013, or 2.5 percent of global trade.

Counterfeit products impact innovators all along the supply chain and across many industries, with examples ranging from factory machinery to industrial chemicals to consumer products such as apparel and pharmaceuticals. Governments can support innovation by legislating and enforcing robust intellectual property rights.

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Photo Credit: UK Home Office via Flickr

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Global

Innovation Fact of the Week: Foreign Patent Applications in Tech Fields of Strategic Importance to China are 4-7 Percentage Points Less Likely to be Approved than Local Applications, All Else Equal

(Ed Note: The “Innovation Fact of the Week” appears as a regular feature in each edition of ITIF’s weekly email newsletter. Sign up today.)

Despite the fact that the World Trade Organization commits member nations to accord treatment no less favorable to nationals of other member nations as it treats its own with regard to intellectual property, a new study from Rassenfosse and Raiteri finds evidence of an anti-foreign bias in the issuance of patents in sectors that the Chinese government finds of strategic importance (as defined by a sector’s inclusion in China’s National Medium and Long-Term Program for Science and Technology Development 2006-2020).

While much analysis has focused on unequal enforcement of IP rights in China, this is the first study to find systematic evidence of bias in the granting of patents against foreigners in China. As the authors conclude, “Given the importance of industrial policy in China and the country’s strong focus on indigenous innovation and intellectual property, the empirical results provide a case of technology protectionism by means of the patent system.”

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Photo Credit: Keoni Cabral

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wheat

Wheat Follies

“That way madness lies.” – King Lear

On July 29 the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the discovery in Washington State of wheat plants of an unapproved variety containing an herbicide tolerance trait. News sources immediately picked up the story, and Monsanto confirmed it. This set off a predictable round of breathless anti-GMO panic, as evidenced by Japan and South Korea announcing that they will “step up quarantine measures for U.S. milling and feed wheat shipments” and block certain varieties.  All this despite the fact that the rogue plants (enough to make about an ounce of grain) were in a noncommercial field, and none have been reported found in any harvests.

We have seen this movie before, in 2013 and 2014. Spoiler alert: It turns out the monster isn’t scary.

In the present case, 22 wheat plants were discovered in an unnamed farmer’s fallow field, presumably when they survived a wheat treatment with glyphosate. Harvests from adjacent wheat fields are being tested for the presence of the unapproved trait, and held pending confirmation they contain no contraband.

The unapproved plants come from a variety, MON71700, that was field

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Airline Science

Innovation Fact of the Week: Increased Airline Industry Competition Boosted Researcher Collaboration by 50 Percent Between 1991 and 2012

(Ed Note: The “Innovation Fact of the Week” appears as a regular feature in each edition of ITIF’s weekly email newsletter. Sign up today.)

The saying “two minds are better than one” is more than just a cliché when it comes to scientific research. In fact, it is widely understood in academia that collaborative research projects produce better outcomes than solo efforts. That is why competition in the airline industry—which drives down ticket prices—also has a beneficial side effect for innovation: It is easier for colleagues far afield to get together to work face-to-face.

Economists Christian Catalini, Christian Fons-Rosen, and Patrick Gaule studied the impact of increased airline competition on research collaboration between 1991 and 2012 by matching the introduction of new airline routes with the effect on ticket prices and research activity at universities in the vicinity of the new routes. They estimate that because of cheaper airline tickets, collaborative projects increased by 36 percent in chemistry, 26 percent in physics, 49 percent in engineering, and 85 percent in biology. On average, cheaper airline tickets boosted collaboration by 50 percent over the past two decades.

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