* Your article, "Defense Department Takes Steps to Energize Cutting-Edge Research" (National Defense, March 2015) reemphasizes the perspective that "they just don't get it." There are some fundamental truths about innovation and innovators that must be grasped before any packaged solutions can overcome the lethargy in DoD technology development.
Innovation takes place in the private sector where patents outpace the sum output of all university, non-profit and government labs by about 20:1. Small business and independent inventors out produce big business patent production by about 5:1. Innovation is stifled ever)' time the program manager requires a specific technology or specific features. The program will always be limited by the PM's imagination and will result in a gray or green box that has exactly the number of screws that was specified.
Innovation is driven by problem solving and not the production of widgets. Inventors are a rare breed who are seldom or never influenced by officials declaring, "OK, now everyone innovate." Some of the least innovative people are the ones with diplomas. Of the small pool of innovators in the United States, there is a smaller subset who have any interest in DoD challenges.
Ultimately, innovators will be most motivated by pride or money. A DoD contract where the potential reward is 10 percent profit on a R&D contract cannot compete with the notoriety or financial upside of a hit video game. The pace of contracting, the bureaucracy of government, the endless reports and burdensome regulations all conspire to destroy innovation. All of these hurdles are eliminated if the government states, "We will buy whatever product that best solves this problem by this date."
The dollar limits in the Small Business Innovation Research program do not even cover the cost of a small laboratory let alone fund a research project. But the time needed to write a proposal and to manage the grant sometime exceeds more lucrative contracts. Sporadic funding destroys an innovator's ability to build a team or to sustain a facility, and innovators have families that must be...