IRELAND'S research and development environment is comparable to that in most other European Union countries but still falls short in terms of the number of patents registered here, according to a new European Commission report on innovation.
The report, which was published yesterday, shows that Ireland's spending on R&D reached the equivalent of 1.77pc of gross domestic product in 2009, having risen from 1.12pc in 2000 and 1.45pc in 2008.
The European Union wants public and private sectors in member states to be spending the equivalent of 3pc of their country's GDP on R&D by 2020.
"The current financial difficulties that the country is experiencing can cast doubts about the capacity of both the public and private sectors to maintain and increase their R&D investments in the short term, but R&D investment still remains a high priority for the country in order to boost its productivity and maintain its economic competitiveness and social progress," the Commission's report noted.
European Research, Innovation and Science Commissioner Maire Geoghegan-Quinn said that meeting the 3pc target for R&D spending and other innovation goals are an "economic must" and "as important for sustainable growth as sorting out public finances".
The Commission was relatively upbeat on Ireland's progress in research and innovation, noting that the country performs "quite well" in most indicators, reaching similar values to the EU average and the group of countries sharing similar research innovation characteristics.
However, it noted that the exception lies in the level of inventiveness of the economy, as measured by the number of patents granted under the Patent Co-operation Treaty, which "falls short" in comparison to the EU.
"Given the relatively strong scientific performance and the relatively recent development of the research base, this may rather reflect a time-lag in bringing new ideas to market or be due to the fact that in ICT, intellectual property is often held in the country of head office and comprises copyright rather than patents," noted the report.
For a number of years some Irish technology entrepreneurs have questioned the low number of patents secured here, however, and whether the R&D grants awarded here are being effectively targeted.
In terms of overall EU research and innovation, the European Commission report said that while Europe remains a leading player in terms of knowledge production and scientific excellence, it's losing ground as regards the exploitation of research results.
It also added that while European SMEs are innovative, they don't grow sufficiently and that the US has demonstrated a "much better capacity" to create and grow new companies in research-intensive sectors.