In my opening at Mobile Future Forward Executive Summit last year, I started with a chart which essentially said that the technology growth curves of Connected Intelligence are enmeshed with geopolitics, industrial policy, innovation and IP, equity and justice, and education and talent. I postulated that it will be unwise for nations and leaders of industries to not consider each of these elements as they formulate their tactics and strategies for they are all connected, interlinked in ways we might not understand completely.
That is why it was a real delight to attend Qualcomm’s LeadershIP event in DC earlier this week. It is the kind of event that convenes the right people to have a dialogue that stretches your knowledge circumference to be able to step back and look at the bigger picture. The intersection of policy, innovation, and geopolitics is a thorny one and that is why one does not see too many discussions in open forums.
The event did a wonderful job of tying innovation to economic and national security that is why both the policy makers, and the technology leaders need to pay attention. The panels attracted some of best people on the topics such as Ambassador Susan Schwab to Ellen Lord – former US Undersecretary of Defense, Robert Strayer – former US Dy Assistant Secretary of State, Kathleen Kingscott from IBM, Prof. Jonathan Barnett of USC, Judge Kathleen O’Malley, Judge Paul Michel, and more.
You have heard me say before – Qualcomm is one of the most brilliant success stories of the wireless industry, steadfast in its commitment to innovation, hardcore R&D, risk taking and setting up the industry one generation at a time, their impact on the ecosystem and the global economy has been profound. They often do not get enough credit for making the new revenue streams possible. Their strength lies in the deep devotion to system engineering.
The last two years have collapsed crises that occur over decades into two short years. We have not understood the ripple effects yet, but one thing has become crystal clear once you put some thought into it – there is a direct link between innovation and economic/national security. The ugliness of the geopolitics tensions has laid bare and has put even a stronger emphasis on the collaboration needed between policy makers and the technology industry.
Here are the salient points I observed at the event:
- “Unprecedented is the new normal.” The shocks to supply chains, unthinkable wars, pandemic spread around the world, exacerbation of inequities, cyberwars – they all have been building up but all coming at the same time has changed the geopolitical landscape forever.
- Sanctions and tech controls are being weaponized.
- The technology being used in industry has significant overlaps with what is needed by defense and military, e.g., 5G, AI, drones, etc.
- Our current education system is inadequate to deal with the brain drain (lack of good immigration policies), training of new technocrats, STEM students. If we do not change, we will find ourselves at a disadvantage. We need an education renaissance.
- We might be going to a world of splinternet where coalitions will be built based on economic and national interests with US, EU, Japan, India, etc. on one side and Russia, China on the other.
- The overflooding of standard bodies by China is great concern but US companies are not acting strategically to represent their interests and clearly not in sync w.r.t. the national interests.
- Patent system has been degraded, the decline in this leadership will have consequences to national security across a range of industries – AI, biotech, semis, etc.
- Clear tie-in of IP policy to national security. There is always a balance between national security and public good. The pendulum swings towards public good in times of peace and during the times of war, we move towards national security which is what is happening now.
- Regulators often focus too much on the domestic market but not enough on the impact of their actions on global competitiveness (lack of industrial policy and inadequacy of current regulatory regime to understand new tech, which is why we have been calling for the creation of a Federal Digital Commission for some time).
- IP rights are at the foundation of US leadership in the tech world, and they have been weakened through a series of decisions by the court and congress has not done anything to strengthen the IP framework in the US.
- Bayh-Dole act has been one of the single most impactful pieces of legislations to come out of Washington, yet it is being attacked and weakened.
- There is a severe lack of industry talent in the govt. Policy should be cycle industry folks through the govt. to make the innerworkings more efficient and not get tied down in the bureaucracy.
- Cost/benefit analysis of China decoupling has not been done. Exceedingly difficult to do without impacting the economy.
- China’s policies of discriminatory licensing, IP theft, forced tech transfer need to be addressed. Europeans are coming around after the pandemic and Ukraine war. If we do not address it now, we will be facing 2030s with China as a bigger economy, bigger R&D spend, more dependent on their supply chains.
- Semiconductor supply chain is a critical area of focus for the Biden administration. Trying to get the CHIPS act passed. Good start but not sufficient.
- What is the role of the government? convening function, should formulate an industrial policy, cannot pick winners and losers like China – we should not try to emulate China but rather come up with our own rules-based framework that allies can also sign on to.
Overall, for the tech policy nerd like me, it was great learning from some exceptional speakers. I have been writing, speaking, and working on these issues for a long time. Glad the national conversation is rising to the level that hopefully will lead to changes in how we view IP, geopolitics, innovation, and national security.
Some of our research papers on this subject are available at http://www.chetansharma.com/insights/papers/
- US vs. China Tech Competition: An exploration of Scenarios
- Policy, Geo-Politics, and the Growth of Technology in a Connected Intelligence World
- 5G Policy Recommendations: A Guide for Governments, Regulators & the Ecosystem
- Competition: Rethinking the Regulatory Framework for the Connected Intelligence Era
Thanks Qualcomm for hosting and giving us the opportunity to attend.