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[BANGKOK] The commercial sector will be involved in public sector research from its inception, in order to get it into "the superstore, not the shelf" under a government scheme to increase the usability of research results.

The Thai government's science agency, the National Science and Technology Development Agency, announced last month (15 July) that it will formalise its focus on private partnerships to get science out of the lab and into the real world.

Private firms will work with public sector researchers from the very beginning of projects to identify the most marketable areas of research.

Thaweesak Koanantakool, who became the agency's director last month, told SciDev.Net that the aim is for research teams to produce results that correspond with firms' needs.

"Close collaboration is important," he said. "In the past, a lot of research has been put on the shelf, not in superstores. So we hope that investors will come and pick them up and put them in superstores.”

Private firms asking for rice varieties which withstand flooding, or for vehicle parts that can help reduce the import burden, might be two examples, he said.

Koanantakool said the agency has been in talks with representatives from the private sector, including the Federation of Thai Industries, to draw up a list of the private sector's research requirements in four key research areas: food and agriculture; energy and environment; public health and manufacturing.

The list will be distributed to the agency's research partners in universities and research centres, including the National Electronics and Computer Technology Center and the National Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, to match up private requirements with research teams.

Intellectual property rights, which belong to the agency by default, will depend on the level of investment contributed by the private firm, said Koanantakool. Firms that cover half of the research costs would profit from the technology for a certain number of years; firms that fully fund the research would own the rights.

"Enhancing industry's participation with NSTDA's research will not only boost their interest in research and help them to become more innovative, but it will also help the government to increase the research and development spending for the country," he said.

Sakarindr Bhumiratana, former director of the agency and rector of King Mongkut's University of Technology, Thonburi, welcomed the initiative but added that it can only be part of the solution to getting technologies to market.

Boosting research and development spending from 0.25 to one per cent of GDP would help improve the country's productivity and competitiveness, he said. And ensuring that research meets the needs of the poor, not just the aims of the private sector, is important, he added.

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