Tuesday, 4 October 2011
IPA chief executives dream about landing a company like Life Technologies (http://www.lifetechnologies.com) . This US corporation operates is the world of super-science, with customers, as its web site says, “across the biological spectrum, working to advance personalized medicine, regenerative science, molecular diagnostics, agricultural and environmental research, and 21st century forensics.” With annual sales approaching $4 billion, an intellectual property bank of some 3,900 patents and licenses, 11,000 worldwide employees and a presence in 160 countries, Life Technologies is a business of very bright people doing very bright things.
Now the company is to invest in a new advanced manufacturing facility. But it’s a three horse race, with existing plants in California and Scotland in the running as the location and a Greenfield development in China also under serious consideration.
China’s attraction is not low wage costs but the country’s national drive to become a world leader in life sciences. China is educating and training scientists at a phenomenal rate. Walk around the campus of any good university in the world and you’ll find lots of young Chinese men and women in science and technology faculties.
China is building science parks, and encouraging international collaboration. It is also, of course, a medical and allied services market of vast potential in its own right, so it’s easy to see why Life Technologies is tempted by China.
Speaking to China Daily in June 2010, the president of the China Academy of Sciences said he considered international collaboration an inseparable part of the Academy’s R&D.
"International cooperation is both an effective means for us to bring in, absorb and utilize global scientific advancement, resources and talent for innovation, and a way for us to contribute to international science progress as well as to the tackling of various global challenges,"
One visiting scientist from the Netherlands commented, “The facilities are excellent and the openness is wonderful. The Chinese government is investing so generously in scientific research that it makes us in Europe jealous.”
For some 300 years the West developed and owned most of the world’s intellectual property. The UK, Germany and the US brought us much of the modern world.
For example, discoveries and innovations in medicine, chemistry and engineering made the University of Glasgow one of the 18th and 19th century global intellectual powerhouses. Located just a few miles from Life Technologies’ Scottish plant, it is still one of the world’s top universities. In the 20th century universities in California and the US dominated the world of discovery, invention and innovation. The 19th century was the British century, the 20th was the American century and the 21st shows all the signs of being the Chinese century. Some say China will have overtaken the US to become the world number one nation in science and technology by 2020. That’s just eight years away.
With China in the driving seat, it will need a super-human effort by governments in the UK and the US to keep their world class universities in the premier division. At present, there’s no sign that either government is acting to preserve the status quo. Wake up. It’s not only factories that are moving East. The world’s brain is on the move too.
I don’t know which location will win the Life Technologies investment, but I do know that beating China to the draw will need a tremendous effort by IPAs, politicians, local authorities, universities and communities if Scotland or California is to take the prize.