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Winning the future through innovation

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By Aneesh Chopra, Austan Goolsbee and Gene Sperling

For two centuries, innovation has been the engine of American prosperity, driving historic improvements in living standards, creating new jobs and new industries, and maintaining this nation's promise of enduring opportunity.  As President Obama described in his State of the Union Address, to win the future we must harness this inherent capacity for ingenuity in the American people, driving a wave of innovation that maintains America's leadership in a rapidly changing, increasingly competitive world.  Today the Administration is following up on President Obama's broad vision for the country's economic prosperity by releasing our Strategy for American Innovation.  This comprehensive strategy provides a blueprint for how we will secure our economic prosperity by out-innovating the rest of the world.

(Video: Austan Goolsbee explains new Startup America program)

First, we will make historic investments in the building blocks of American innovation: our people, our ideas, and our networks. The Administration is committed to improving our students' performance at every level and returning America to the global lead in college graduation rates. To ensure that our people have 21st century skills, we will invest in breakthrough educational technologies, train 100,000 STEM teachers in the next ten years, and utilize innovative programs like Race to the Top, which is promoting education reform and catalyzing higher levels of student achievement.

In improving educational quality, we will further catalyze innovation to spur more cost-effective and transformative modes of learning.  To that end, we are announcing ARPA-ED, a new initiative within the Department of Education that builds on the successful model of DARPA, the Defense agency that drove the basic research and development that gave rise to the Internet. ARPA-ED will seek to further develop some of the game-changing technological developments that DARPA has sponsored in the area of educational technology, such as software that is as effective as a personal tutor for Navy recruits learning to become IT technicians. Despite the opportunities for technology to improve education, we continue to invest relatively little in educational research and development — 100 times less, as a share of revenue, in the education sector than in the software and Internet industries.

The Administration's Innovation Strategy is premised on the need to invest in fundamental research, such as that sponsored by the National Science Foundation, and to accelerate fundamental breakthroughs at the beginning of the innovation pipeline. These investments provide the seed corn for tomorrow's new inventions and entrepreneurial upstarts.  We continue today to reap the benefits of yesterday's investments in the R&D that enabled the Internet to develop; companies—from eBay to Facebook—are creating new jobs and economic opportunities that enhance the quality of Americans' lives.  Without ongoing investments in this area, we risk losing our leadership at the technological frontier.

Finally, by investing in modern infrastructure — from a "smart" electricity grid to NextGen air traffic control to wireless communications systems— that moves people and ideas at 21st century speeds and with 21st century efficiency, the Administration will build a platform for entrepreneurship, innovation, and a more competitive private sector.

With these building blocks in place, we will also promote market-based innovation so that American businesses — both established companies and start-ups — can continue to be the engines of new product and service innovations. The Administration will remove barriers, enhancing opportunities for private-sector innovation through several important steps. We will reform the patent system to improve the quality of patents and reduce the untenable delays in patent processing times — currently averaging 35 months due to a backlog of over 700,000 patent applications that leaves entrepreneurs and companies in a prolonged state of uncertainty. We will also undertake a comprehensive review of existing federal regulations to ensure that these rules facilitate, rather than impede, competition and innovation in addressing valid public policy goals.  And finally, the Startup America initiative we announced earlier this week will promote entrepreneurship across our nation, investing $2 billion in capital for entrepreneurs and lowering barriers to high growth enterprises so that Americans with world-changing ideas can better overcome the obstacles to creating world-changing companies.

Promoting market based innovation upon a solid foundation of an educated workforce, cutting-edge science, and advanced infrastructure will help catalyze breakthroughs in critical areas where America can lead the world -- in clean energy, nanotechnology, advanced manufacturing, wireless communications systems, and other promising fields.  It is in this spirit that the President is proposing, among other things,  to double the number of Energy Innovation Hubs that create technology breakthroughs, and to increase support for ARPA-E to lead the world's clean energy revolution, all while reducing our costly dependence on foreign sources of energy.

Through innovation, our nation will continue to generate the world's best new products, develop the world's leading new businesses and industries, and maintain the most productive workforce. America draws on a proud history of innovation — a nation of tinkerers and entrepreneurs that, as the President said in his State of Union, does "big things." Just as electricity, automobiles, computers, and the Internet have previously led to dramatic gains in our prosperity, new industries — from clean energy and nanotechnology to advanced manufacturing and the ongoing wireless revolution — have the potential to be wellsprings for the future, bringing Americans higher quality jobs, higher incomes, and healthier, longer lives. The investments we choose to make today will determine whether we will win the future and write the next great chapter of the American story.

Aneesh Chopra is the White House Chief Technology Officer, Austan Goolsbee is Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, and Gene Sperling National Economic Council Director for President Obama.

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