One of the many interesting features of nanotechnology is that its development is taking place at a time when more and more research is being carried out in the fast developing countries of Asia. The extent of this shift is underlined by a recent piece of research publicised with the headline Western knowledge gap widens with shift to the East. The research, by Robert Huggins and Hiro Izushi, from the Universities of Sheffield and Aston, analysed the destination of the $50 billion invested in R&D by multinationals between 2002 and 2005. They found that 58% of this money was spent in Asia (concentrated in a few locations, such as Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Mumbai in India and Beijing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou and Shanghai in China), 22% in Europe and only 14% in North America. Since North America was the origin of 50% of this money, this prompts the authors to talk about a ” net R&D investment deficit of US$18 billion” for North America (by the same definition, Europe has a smaller deficit of US$3 billion).
This strongly underlines the comment I made below in my article Nanotechnology and visions of the future (part 2): “Even the remaining large companies have embraced the concept of “open innovation”, in which research and development is regarded as a commodity to be purchased on the open market (and, indeed, outsourced to low cost countries) rather than a core function of the corporation.”