Discussion and concluding remarks

While policies in Singapore were successful in creating an innovation hub, we provided empirical evidence on how private companies hold almost 100% of resulting intellectual rents. Among companies, foreign ones loom large, appropriating 83.3% of total private companies’ innovation rents.

As confirmed by our interviews, the NUS and the NTU are actively attempting to commercialize R&D outcomes (by increasingly patenting results and creating start-ups). However, they barely collect intellectual rents from that activity. Legal monopoly innovation rents resulting from IPRs have been the most visible (and studied) phenomenon of intellectual monopoly capitalism (Boldrin & Levine, 2008; Durand & Milberg, 2020; Lambert, 2019; Pagano, 2014; Rikap, 2019). However, not every patent will yield a stream of revenues for its owner, and co-owned patents can result in the benefit of only one or some co-owners. Furthermore, as our interviewees agreed, in some industries patents can be easily circumvented, and infringement accusations are expensive and can take many years. All the latter reduces private companies’ interest in licensing university patents.

Moreover, Singapore-based start-ups are not becoming standalone actors fuelling Singapore’s economy. In previous chapters, we have argued that start-ups - even from the Silicon Valley - are mostly risk-takers and, when successful, they generally end up subordinating to intellectual monopolies or acquired by them. Singapore start-ups seem to qualify as innovating companies that, if successful, are compelled to share rents with intellectual monopolies. Since the state is the main funder of start-ups in Singapore, it may be said that it is indirectly subsidizing foreign intellectual monopolies. As long as the Singaporean government assures these companies a higher rate of profit than other countries (with similar institutional, political and economic stability) in the region, Singapore likely remains as a hub.

In this respect, this chapter’s findings broaden the scope of the intellectual monopoly framework, by empirically showing how foreign corporations’ profit from the innovation hub of an emerging country. It may be argued that intellectual monopolies not only profit from public R&D from their home countries, as shown by Mazzucato (2015), but also from the research capacity and public funds of emerging economies, thus deepening global asymmetries by monopolizing knowledge funded and produced by peripheral countries’ organizations.

This chapter’s results are thus in line with Cooke’s (2006) concluding remark on global bioscientific knowledge networks. According to the author, the formation of knowledge clusters in certain regions has “begun to exert spatial knowledge monopoly effects that are already bringing ‘increasing returns’ as multinationals establish R&D facilities to capture ‘knowledge spillover’ advantages from cluster conventions of both ‘open science’ and ‘open innovation.’” (Cooke, 2006, p. 457). The same can be said for Singapore’s hub.

Hence, our findings question the real nature of Singapore’s hub success, as highlighted by different authors (Cheah et al., 2016b; Mok, 2015; Sidhu et al., 2014). Unlike these studies, we not only studied Singapore’s hub results in terms of science and technology indicators but also included an analysis of innovation rents’ distribution. This is what allowed us to distinguish between Singapore’s success in terms of science and technology achievements, and its relative failure when it comes to garnering rents. Innovation rents’ distribution is of utmost importance because neither IPRs, nor the creation of start-ups by themselves, guarantee the economic valorization of the achieved results.

As we have explained in this book, innovation is produced by transnational innovation networks organized through power relationships. These networks are increasingly dominated by intellectual monopolies. While innovation is produced collectively by multiple organizations, the capacity to turn results into intangible assets, and thus to extract (intellectual) rents, lays mostly in the hands of intellectual monopolies. Eventually, they may share the rents with innovating companies that played a paramount role in achieving the results but, overall, there is an unequal distribution of the profits extracted from innovation. As stated by Yeung and Coe (2015), what is at stake is who captures the value created from R&D. In Foley’s (2013) words, in Singapore, foreign corporations are appropriating surplus value, thanks to innovations produced by Singaporean universities and start-ups, which were mostly funded by the state. Summing up, since intellectual monopolies predate knowledge from a non-core country, our results provide evidence of knowledge extractivism (see Chapter 11).

To conclude, Singapore’s hub strategy, widely opened to foreign multinational companies, poses limits to development and increases inequalities and firms’ heterogeneity. Nevertheless, results should not lead us to conclusions against public investment in R&D. On the contrary, there is a need for a complete rethinking of public policy. Policy recommendations should consider both the allocation of public funding for R&D and the state’s potential to tilt the scale against global intellectual monopolies. Chapter 14 is an attempt to further elaborate on these remarks.

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