Germany – Wasteland of Innovation? – No More!

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Innovation means novelties, creativity, progress – it is essential for a flourishing economy and supports the change towards a modern, future-compatible society. However, what is the current situation in Germany? Time and again, journalists have been criticizing a standstill of Germany’s innovative culture. Tinkerers and inventors are denounced to lack the courage to go for growth beyond regional borders.

From innovative wasteland to the country of inventors

During the past two years, the Deutsche Patent- und Markenamt (DPMA (German Patent and Brand Office) has noted a rapid surge of technical innovations. In 2013, the DPMA issued 22.1 percent more patents than in the past year. Patent application increased by 2.9 percent. German research organizations and companies have been very active in the field of intelligently linked products and services in particular, also known as Industry 4.0. They established cooperation in various projects and sustainability measures in the technological fields of self-optimization, man-machine interaction, intelligent linking, energy efficiency and systems engineering. With these perspectives, the high-wage region Germany offers formidable future chances for Industry 4.0.

From invention to innovation

A real innovation emerges from a patented invention only if it can be profitably marketed and thus results in new products, services or business models. Hence, only the months and years to follow will show which patents have the potential for marketable products and services.

In international comparison, Germany is strong in the development of new technical solutions. But when comparing application rates in the form of innovative business models, another nation, the USA, ranks first. The US often borrows from German technologies and uses them as basis for developing new business models promising high profits. One example is Apple’s eco system around the iTunes based on MP3 technology. The German Fraunhofer Institute in cooperation with the University of Erlangen supplied the technology for the revolutionary business model of the global group. In the meantime, revenues from the patent have reached a two-digit amount in millions that is invested into research. But it was Apple that made big money with the invention of the most successful MP3 player ever.

Future perspectives of Industry 4.0

Germany has already well recognized the importance of Industry 4.0 as future perspective and motor for growth and supports projects that drive informatization of the classical industries. However, one last step is missing for becoming inventor’s paradise. The president of the Bundesverband der Deutschen Industrie (BDI, Federal Association of the German Industry), Ulrich Grillo, admonished at the opening of Hannover Messe, that the government and the economy should invest and dedicate more funds into research and development to prevent Germany from falling behind in comparison to other countries. In the future, it will be even more important to advance the German technology-focused innovation culture into the direction of marketable models. In this context, the research project “AUTONOMIK for Industry 4.0” of the BMWi technology program is crucial: In cooperation with UNITY AG and the Heinz Nixdorf Institute, it explores issues in context with “Business models for Industry 4.0”.

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About Prof. Dr. Heiko Seif 23 Articles
Heiko Seif teaches as professor for International Management and his academic emphasis at Munich Business School is on Innovation, Industry 4.0 and Sustainable and International Management. After graduation, Seif taught at various German universities, and his field of activity was primarily concentrated on consulting the automotive and aircraft sectors. He founded the management consultant office CNX Consulting Partners and presently works as senior manager in the field of IT Management at UNITY AG.