In this interview the City’s president, Dr. Mohammed Al-Suwaiyel, spoke with our correspondent in Riyadh about how it is supporting a variety of high-tech industries in the Kingdom.
Asharq Al-Awsat: What contributions are being made to transfer the City to a “knowledge economy”?
Dr. Al-Suwaiyel: The City is a center of research and development in Saudi Arabia and plays a key role in the implementation of national programs for science, technology and innovation. It seeks to support Saudi efforts to improve its position in the fields of science, technology and innovation in order to shift to industries that are knowledge-based.
Q: Does the City itself contribute to the formation of national policies and plans for science, technology and innovation?
Certainly. The City contributes to the formulation of national policies for science, technology and innovation, and the development of strategies and plans for implementing these policies. It also contributes to conducting applied scientific research, coordinating with research institutions in Saudi Arabia to serve the purpose of development, strengthening cooperation, and local and international partnership for the transfer and localization of technology and its development, as well as providing scientific advice and innovative solutions.
Q: Does the City really provide the kingdom with the infrastructure it needs to meet its goals?
Yes, the City has established the infrastructure for a number of techniques by launching more than 16 institutes, programs and centers for developing technology, which include technical strategies for water, oil and gas, petrochemicals, nanotechnology, biotechnology, environmental technology, space and aviation, advanced material and building systems, information technology, electronic and communication technology, and photonics.
Q: What about technological incubators? Are they part of the requirements for the national plan for science, technology and innovation?
A number of technological incubators have been established at the headquarters of the City and major Saudi universities contribute to its establishment. These incubators aim to assist the development and promotion of small to medium enterprises and enable entrepreneurs to successfully develop innovative technology projects, as well as provide them with financial, administrative and technical support from the primary production stages to the first steps of implementation.
Q: What do these incubators include? What are their branches?
They include the Badir Incubator for Information and Communication Technology (BADIR ICT), the Badir Incubator for Biotechnology (BADIR-BIO), the Badir Incubator for Advanced Manufacturing (BADIR-AMI), an incubator for technological projects for women. This is all in collaboration with Princess Nora bint Abdulrahman University.
Q: Does the City have an investment sector for its research outputs or economic programs for transferring technology and marketing it on a local and regional level?
Certainly. Alongside these efforts, the City will cooperate with the Saudi Company for Development and Investment Technology, which was established by the Royal Decree No. M/47 two years ago and represents the technological investment sector in Saudi Arabia. It aims to invest in research outlets and applied economic programs and transfer technology to Saudi Arabian industries strategically. The company is currently determining the outputs of research labs or software or technical products and services and the registered rights owned by the City, in order to transfer the outcomes into salable products or services to be marketed or invested in the local or foreign market.
Q: What about intellectual property rights and patents?
The Saudi Company for Technological Development and Investment has developed business and economic feasibility studies and strategies that are necessary for marketing and investment in these products and services to which the City owns the rights. This includes the City’s responsibilities surrounding the protection of intellectual property, manufacturing, applying regulations that relate to patents, registering the necessary patent to it, and, after all that, being granted patents.
Q: What is the role of the City in supporting Saudi Arabian innovations and inventions, in addition to keeping the rights?
The City carries out the task of granting patents, and works on protecting them in accordance with their provision. Thus, it preserves the rights of the invention’s owner, which leads to support and encouragement for research, development and investment where inventions are concerned. It attracts advanced technologies and foreign investments to Saudi Arabia. The City also provides regular consultations and video demonstrations with regards to technical queries on topics relating to the system and its regulations. It also provides them with a lot of information in the various fields of knowledge, and not to mention the applied incubator technical program of the City, which opens the door for development to support people who have no idea about viable technology, and can be marketed as work opportunity.
Q: Are there overhead charges or fines as a consequence of providing such innovations?
The City made a point that innovators would be exempt from an initial research fee, in order to avoid individuals bearing a financial burden as a consequence of submitting applications. Likewise, the possibilities of providing them with material support have expanded. This was achieved through an agreement with the Saudi Credit and Savings Bank to support the inventors and their sponsors, as well as providing offices, consultants and the equipment needed to start up, in addition to connecting them to a network of investors.
Q: Is the City looking at new procedures for submitting patents, to shorten the length of time it takes to obtain one?
Regarding the issuing of patents, the average length of time from filling out the form to obtaining the patent is between two and three years. The length of time depends on the field of the innovation and its complexity. This is a global average, as any office examines applications objectively. The City is making every effort to reduce this time period to only two years.
Q: The City hosts a number of scientific research meetings, but the feedback—through following up on the implementation of recommendations—remains absent.
Scientific research meetings do not necessarily always end with recommendations. Scientific conferences organized by the City usually discuss global technological developments and certain techniques and strategies that are of interest to the country. The importance of these conferences is in displaying local and international experience, expertise and efforts with regards to these technologies.
Q: Is there serious interaction between Saudi Arabian scholars and those from other countries regarding the development of these techniques in Saudi Arabia?
Yes, there is positive interaction between scholars in Saudi Arabia and those from abroad. They discuss their latest findings in these areas and participate with each other regarding information that helps develop and localize technologies in Saudi Arabia. These conferences have led to many agreements to cooperate and a lot of joint research teams—some of which are still in operation.