The annual CREST Symposium 2014 featuring Nobel Prize Laurette Professor Shuji Nakamura

CREST Symposium 2014 featured a forum titled “HARNESSING INNOVATION IN SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY” as well as a speech and interactive session with 2014 Noble Prize winner for Physics Professor Shuji Nakamura.

In the Morning…

The morning forum was moderated by Datuk Phang Ah Tong, Deputy CEO of MIDA, and featured several distinguished panellists.

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First up was Professor Rofina Yasmin Othman, Director of the University Malaya Centre for Innovation & Commercialisation. She began her talk: “Dynamics of University-Industry partnerships – sowing seeds for success” by describing a conference she had attended recently where all the speakers’ slides featured a broken bridge. This is the perception that both academia and industry seem to have about the current state of collaboration. She noted, however, that CREST is successfully building that bridge.

Professor Rofina noted that there are a lot of differences in terms of expectations and priorities between academia and industry. Recognising these differences allows for progress to be made, she said.

She also highlighted that it makes sense for industry to collaborate with academia as universities such as Universiti Malaya are well-funded for research and development purposes. As the cost of R&D is high, SMEs would do well to leverage on the universities’ R&D capabilities.

Lastly, she emphasised the importance of industry informing academia what type of graduates they should be churning out. “We are here to create talent for you. We can’t do that if we don’t know what you want. And we don’t know what you want if you don’t tell us,” she said.

Next up, Professor James Speck of the University of California Santa Barbara gave a talk entitled “Research and University-Industry Relations at the University of California Santa Barbara”.

Dr Speck said he admired how closely the federal government in Malaysia works closely with industry, noting that in the US, such collaboration doesn’t happen at the national level, only at the state level.

He also gave a broad overview of the professorship system in the US where assistant professors have complete academic freedom with no overseeing professor that is dictating their research. This, he said, is different from the European and Asian system.

According to Dr Speck, the main source of university funding is the federal government. Out of US$209 million in research funding, US$138 of that comes from the federal government, he said. Industry, in contrast, funded US$15.5 million.

He surprised many in the audience when he revealed that base research support from the university is zero and that the university only supplies three quarter of their salary, lab space and not much more. He remarked that this provides motivation for professors to seek out research collaborations and funding. “The onus is on us to make these things happen,” he said.

Dr Speck then described how 10 years ago, UCSB formed its own tech transfer office, which helped to get UCSB technologies patented and licenced. He revealed that part of the office’s operating budget comes from royalties and licensing. “Their goal is to take UCSB IP, get it licenced to industry and into products that are royalty generating,” he said, adding that inventors get 30% of the royalty, so everybody is motivated to make it work.

Lastly, he described the start-up culture at UCSB where there are on average six new start-ups per year based on UCSB-owned technologies. He noted that of the 51 start-ups founded so far, 40 are still active.

The next speaker was Dr Hari Narayanan, Managing Director, Penang Operations, Motorola Solutions, whose talk was: “Driving for innovation – Motorola Solutions Malaysia’s experience”

Dr Hari described how at one time, Motorola aspired to have the most number of patents. But today, the focus is no longer on patents per se but ways to create revenues and royalties from patents. The focus now, he said, is on whether something brings money into the organisation.

He noted that sometimes, some ideas or innovations are not patentable. But rather than reject such ideas, they “bank it” through an online “ideas space” for potential future use. The company also has facilities to give a certain level of funding for proof of concept and exploratory work, to see whether it’s something that can generate income.

He also spoke about motivation and said that sometimes, recognition for innovation is more powerful than pure financial rewards.

The last speaker was TK Tan, the CEO of Clarion whose topic was: “How local companies (have to) evolve to seize opportunities, grow & innovate.”

In his speech Tan talked about how the company has evolved from designing products to designing platforms that can be used to create multiple new products. He explained that product obsolescence is about nine to 18 months for car stereos. This does not give the company much time to develop new products from scratch. But with a platform, the company can create between four to six new products.

Tan also spoke about how it’s no longer just about hardware but rather, it’s now a software game where some 70% of the development is in the software side of things. He noted that a Toyota Prius has 32 different processes while a 7 series BMW has 120 process. All this requires software. So, besides looking at manufacturing facilities, hardware integration, hardware design, there is a need to look at innovation in software too.

In his closing note, Datuk Phang remarked about how important the E&E industry is to Malasyia, employing some 700,000 people and contributing 32% to the country’s total exports. However, much of that is back-end work, not value-added front-end work he said. That hast to change because we cannot rely on cheap labour and cheap land anymore, he added. “We need to focus on an economy based on innovation and creativity.”

In the Afternoon…


The second half of the symposium, held after lunch, consisted of a special keynote speech by Professor Shuji Nakamura, followed by an interactive session where he was first interviewed by Datuk Yoon Chon Leong, Managing Partner, Bizwise Consulting, and Dr David Lacey, Director of Research & Innovation, OSRAM Opto Semiconductors, and then took questions from the audience.

Professor Nakamura talks about how he ended up discovering the blue LED and about the future prospects of laser lighting as the future of lighting.

listen to an edited version of Professor Nakamura’s speech ⇓


In discussions with Datuk Yoon and Dr Lacey, Professor Nakamura talks about the importance of deep thinking and how naivety helps leads to new discoveries.

listen to an edited version of the discussion ⇓


In taking questions from the floor, Professor Nakamura talks about why he sued his former employer as well as the prospects of GaN on GaN.

listen to an edited version of the Q&A session opened to the floor ⇓