Industry comments on outlook of IST theme in Fifth Framework Programme

Brussels 19 November 1998 The European Commission has planned to launch the first call of the IST programme on January 27th 1999. The funding of the second theme, within the Fifth Framework Programme, known as the "User-friendly Information Society", amounts to 3,600 million euro. IST's first three key actions will each receive 17% of this budget, whereas technology and essential infrastructures, the fourth key action, has been granted 36%. A further 10% and 3% will be reserved for future and emerging technologies, and networking respectively. Representatives from the involved industries have expressed their views with regard to this distribution of the funding as well as to the structural organization of the calls and the Commission's patent policy on research results.

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The European Commission has planned to launch the first call of the IST programme on January 27th 1999. The funding of the second theme, within the Fifth Framework Programme, known as the "User-friendly Information Society", amounts to 3,600 million euro. IST's first three key actions will each receive 17% of this budget, whereas technology and essential infrastructures, the fourth key action, has been granted 36%. A further 10% and 3% will be reserved for future and emerging technologies, and networking respectively. Representatives from the involved industries have expressed their views with regard to this distribution of the funding as well as to the structural organization of the calls and the Commission's patent policy on research results.

The IST theme will take over from three separate programmes in the Fourth Framework Programme, which are Esprit in computers, ACTS in telecommunications and the Telematics Application Programme. As such, IST has turned into a single integrated programme because of the changing needs in society. The entire IST programme has a better focus than Esprit had in the Fourth Framework, and a wider range of thematic issues, from software over hardware to microelectronics, according to the industry.

The Fifth Framework has been designed in four thematic programmes. The IST theme is based on a scheme which sets out the Commission's objectives within four key actions, which are systems and services for the citizens; new methods of work and electronic commerce; multimedia content and tools; and essential technologies and infrastructure. The first key action includes major health care topics, such as clinical, biological and imaging support systems for health professionals, new generation telemedicine services, and personal health systems.

Industry experts however have pointed out that the technologies and projects within IST are not sufficiently focused, which they fear will lead to a lack of research funding. The Commission has not only left out of the programme the fields of visual display and systems software integration but equally has failed to recognize the microelectronics and telecommunications areas as basic technologies. In turn, Commission officials insist the real needs of the citizen should be addressed instead of concentrating purely on technology. Therefore, the research and development has to be objective-driven. Besides, having to specify all applications in the IST work programme would be a task too comprehensive to perform for the Commission. It is for the industry to fill in the details.

Still, the telecoms and computer industries are worried that the Commission has not narrowed its research areas far enough, specifically with regard to the latest generations of mobile telephony and the Internet which are likely to fuse in the near future. Currently, European management and funding are too scattered to create a common vision as to where the IS/IT industry should be heading. The Commission indicates the recent liberalization of the European telecoms sector as a principal factor, as to move very carefully on this scene in contrast with the present situation in the computer industry.

Overall manager of the IST programme will be George Metakides, director of Esprit at DGIII. As such, the computer research and development in Esprit will become the responsibility of DGXIII, which also will run IST. In order to offer assistance for the acceptance of proposals in the Fifth Framework, an advisory board has been composed, including representatives from both the industry and academic institutions as well as application users. The fact that this board has no direct decision power over the allocation of funding resources for particular projects is deeply regretted by the industry which has to pay over 50% towards funding.

The Commission aims to achieve a balance between a mixture of different applications within the four key actions and the funding in order to reflect an integration of technologies. Yet, the industry experts fear that key action 4, which deals with essential technologies and infrastructure, will be heavily oversubscribed because of the emphasis on technological development. The last critical issue to see industry and the Commission taking diverging views is over the latter one's intellectual property rights (IPRs) policy on research results, which industry claims has prompted different levels of concern.

The Commission has decided that it can no longer offer the industry 50% funding for projects, but only a 30% contribution. Since the Commission insists on maintaining the same IPR rights, this might end up with industry developing its own research without the Commission's support. With the industry covering 70% of the project cost, it should have the full right to keep its IPRs. Another concern is the participation of non-EU countries in the Fifth Framework programme. French industry in particular is worried that these non-EU countries will get access to IPR rights too easily, and will be able to tap into these in order to exploit them.

In any case, as a whole, industry seems happy with the direction the Fifth Framework programme has taken. Consequently, it has approved of the overall structure for the IST programme, which is regarded as a major tool for improved collaboration between European companies. The information for this article has been provided by the EuroInfoTech Magazine. For more details on the distribution of the funding for the Fifth Framework programme we refer to the VMW article Fifth Framework Programme granted white smoke by Council of Ministers in this very same issue.


Leslie Versweyveld

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