Innovation: Hungary's innovators seek support

Hungary - and Hungarians - have a long tradition of innovation. From the electric motor to the ball point pen their inventions have touched all of our lives. As Sandor Laczko reports from Budapest, the innovation tradition is not enjoying the best of times - but the spark is still alive.

Hungary spends just less than one per cent of its GDP on research and development - less than half of the EU average, and this figure has not really changed much in the past few years, nor is it likely to change in the near future. Despite favourable legislation on innovation in this decade, including the setting-up of a national innovation fund, the head of the Hungarian Association for Innovation, Dr. László Antos, is not very optimistic about the coming years.

"R&D expenditure in Hungary couldn't increase, innovation activities of the small and medium-sized companies couldn't increase, it's very hard to stimulate the activities of SMEs. Maybe, the most unfavourable is the number of the graduate and PhD students in the field of technical natural sciences".

Despite financial restrictions, there are some encouraging results. In September this year, a Hungarian won first prize at the European Union Contest for Young Scientists. 18-year-old Márton Spohn's project on how plants defend themselves from pests was awarded 5,000 US dollars and an invitation to the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm. At another European contest, a Hungarian team won first prize with the business plan entitled "Chemistry Logic" and will represent East and Central Europe in the world final in Las Vegas. An area where innovation has become a tradition over the past five decades in Hungary is the manufacturing of medical instruments. One of the latest examples is the digital X-ray machine developed and manufactured by Innomed Medical Technology Co. Ltd. in Budapest. Innomed's sales manager Ferenc Hegedus says compared to the traditional X-ray machines, digital ones are better for patients, as well as doctors:

"The patient has a very low patient dose, which is very important because during our lifetime, these radiation doses are added. The other important thing is from the doctor's point of view, which means higher workflow, larger number of patients can be scanned, and archiving becomes much easier and, of course, the costs are lower as no liquids, no films are used in the system. Also, consultation with colleagues is made much easier as the DICOM images can be spent through the DICOM network".

DICOM stands for Digital Imaging and Communication in Medicine. Ferenc Hegedus says the largest unit within the company is by far the research and development department whose innovation-minded engineers came up with the idea of Innomed's own digital X-ray machine.

"Our digital unit is unique in the way that this is a very cost-effective digital solution, which gives a considerable advantage compared to other digital technologies in the same field".

This cost-effectiveness helped Innomed to beat the giant medical instruments firm Siemens-Philips at an EU tender for supplying two digital X-ray machines for Bulgaria. However Innomed is something of an exception. Many enterprises believe that more needs to be invested in supporting Hungary's innovators. They point to wealthy EU countries such as Sweden and Finland where over 3 percent of GDP goes on research, development and innovation. They say Hungary's 1% is simply not enough.