March 21-22, 2007 | Georgetown University
NW Washington, D.C. | USA

Innovation—Strengthened or Strangled
by Standardization?

Innovation—Experts say it is the key to economic growth and there are few that disagree. But are countries strangling innovation without knowing it? Significant investments are made in education and research. Tax benefits and intellectual property incentives are given to companies. Yet, the mechanism that most effectively enables innovation is often completely ignored by policy makers—Standardization. Many governments are inclined to leave this powerful mechanism completely at the mercy of market forces, crossing their fingers that the best standardization systems will emerge. In doing so, are they creating an economic disadvantage for their nations’ industries and companies?

Made Created in China?

Not all governments are entrusting standardization to market forces alone.  For example:

  • China has made standardization strategy one of its top priorities. As it becomes more influential in the standardization system, China may move from the world’s main manufacturer to its top innovator. The change will be most evident on tags that evolve from “Made in China” to “Created in China.”
  • Brazil is investing heavily in standardization as a way to create a more equitable world market in which to compete.
  • The European Commission leverages standardization to stimulate innovation and encourage voluntarily compliance with government guidelines and regulations.
  • India looks to standardization to create opportunities for its increasingly educated population.  
  • The World Trade Organization, a form of international governance, recognizes that standardization is used to create significant market advantages.

Public or Private Leadership?

Can a government’s action—or lack thereof—strangle innovation by condoning an inefficient, market irrelevant standardization system? Should the market be trusted with such a powerful trade mechanism? Would nations benefit from centralized government control of standardization? Or, can businesses and governments work towards a balance of policy and private market mechanisms that create a powerful standardization system?

A nation’s standardization system and strategy should not only foster innovation but ensure that it capitalizes on it for economic and social gain. To accomplish this, business and government must work together. The work must occur directly between the policy makers and businesses on which national economic growth relies. Through these discussions, standardization can be strengthened so that it fulfills its true potential to:

  • Drive technical advancement and accessibility
  • Create job growth
  • Increase knowledge
  • Facilitate innovation

About this Conference

Past “Standards Edge” conferences held with Sun Microsystems, Microsoft, ETSI, the Department of Commerce, MIT, and Stanford Law School, among others, have found that standardization is critical to creating advantages in the world market. Participants have recognized that this mechanism is the key to creating the right balance of collaboration and competition critical to not only stimulating innovation, but capitalizing on it. But it is not only participants that value standardization. Corporations understand that their standardization strategy is as important as their product, pricing, and sales strategies. Some even have Chief Standardization Officers. Academia recognizes standardization’s impact on the economy. Even consumers understand they must look for certain standards in products such as their cell phones, wireless modems, and infant car seats. However, no one has identified the policies that best strengthen standardization for national advantage.

This highly interactive conference will bring policy makers, businesses, academics, and the legal community together to examine how government policy can strengthen standardization for national advantage. Case studies along with expert opinion will be presented, though the emphasis will be on maximizing interaction between the speakers and participants. The conference will conclude with specific policy recommendations to be published in a forthcoming paper.


The Bolin Group