Europe needs to stay an innovation leader in particular in fields of disruptive innovation

It is very important for Europe to keep and strengthen its role as an international innovation leader, in particular in those areas which could have a “disruptive” impact on markets and industries. This was a conclusion of an international expert workshop organised by empirica as part of the INNO-Grips project (, held on 24th January 2012 in Brussels.

The workshop focused on “disruptive” innovation and its implications for competitiveness and innovation policy design. An innovation is “disruptive” if it has a significant impact on a market and on the economic activity of firms in that market. The focus is thus on the impact of an innovations as opposed to its novelty. The term is widely used today in the sense introduced originally as disruptive technology by Christensen’s seminal work “The Innovator’s Dilemma” (1997) which triggered an intensive debate about the concept. However, the debate has, so far, predominantly focused on implications for business strategy – it has hardly ever been discussed from an innovation policy perspective.

The INNO-Grips workshop addressed the issues whether innovation policy  needs to find specific responses to trends with a disruptive impact. The study team presented results of a policy brief which discusses disruptive innovation in the chemical industry, the automotive industry, tourism and the transport and logistics sector. Disruptive innovations in the chemical and automotive industry are seen as key to address global challenges such as climate change and the shift towards renewable energies. As disruptive technology often needs problem-solving know-how from different industries, an innovation system which facilitates open innovation and cross-sector cooperation was seen as very important. The European Technology Platforms could be a means to address this objective.

While the experts agreed on the importance of staying an innovation leader, there was a controversial debate on how to share the related investment risks among stakeholders (including the private and public sector), considering the high degree of uncertainty in disruptive technology development. Typically, it takes 20-30 years after a new technology has been invented until it gets widely used and commercially exploited in products.

Some participants warned against narrowing down the discussion on mechanisms for R&D funding. They argued that innovation policy had other and possibly more relevant instruments to promote disruptive innovation in the best possible way.

Still, a central point in the discussion was the question how important it was to keep R&D activities of companies as much as possible in Europe. Some speakers argued that this must be a central objective for policy, as the commercial exploitation (and thus value creation) –once the new products or processes get into the market– is likely to start in the area where they have been developed. Others took a slightly different view and argued that it makes sense for European companies to conduct part of their R&D in other economies, and that this would strengthen their competitiveness without necessarily hurting the European economy. They compared it to relocating parts of the production process.

A specific suggestion was to put more emphasis on technology road-mapping, in order to create a better empirical basis for taking informed decisions about investments. The European Commission could coordinate and foster such activities.


The workshop was organised by empirica in the context of INNO-Grips - "Global Review of Innovation Policy Studies", a component of the "PRO INNO Europe" innovation web portal ( of the European Commission. The services of INNO Grips are provided by empirica, based on a contract with the European Commission's DG Enterprise and Industry, in cooperation with ICEG EC and other research partners. The contract is running until the end of 2012.

The workshop proceedings can be downloaded from the INNO-Grips website: