National Science and Technology Programs
In 1998, the government began launching national-level science and technology programs to accelerate the island’s socioeconomic development and sharpen its competitive edge. Administered in coordination with numerous government agencies, these programs integrate up-, mid- and downstream R&D resources to promote innovative technologies. Seven such programs are currently underway, covering networked communications, biotechnology and pharmaceuticals, e-learning and digital archives, genomic medicine, system-on-chip, nanoscience and nanotechnology, and energy.
Telecommunications has been a focal area of the national S&T programs since 1998. After a decade of effort by the government and private sector, the industry’s output has increased dramatically, reaching NT$1.03 trillion (US$32.68 billion) in 2008, making it Taiwan’s third trillion-NT-dollar industry after semiconductors and TFT-LCDs. Now in its third phase, the Networked Communications Program lays out a vision of building Taiwan into an “intelligent island” with ubiquitous broadband access by 2013. The production value of the industry is also expected to reach approximately US$48 billion (NT$1.5 trillion) at that time.
Under the program, particular interest is being drawn to the development of WiMAX—or Worldwide Interoperability for Microwave Access—an advanced technology providing wireless transmission of data, voice and video over long distances. Building on its success in the Wi-Fi industry (where local manufacturers enjoy more than 90 percent of world market share), Taiwan officially adopted WiMAX technology as the nation’s next-generation wireless broadband standard in 2005 when the Science and Technology Advisory Group drew up the “Taiwan WiMAX Development Blueprint.”
In line with this decision, the National Communications Commission licensed six companies to provide WiMAX services in Taiwan. The Ministry of Economic Affairs (MOEA) also signed memoranda of understanding with nine global telecommunication giants, including U.S. companies Intel, Nortel Networks, Motorola, Starent Networks, Rohde & Schwarz International and Sprint Nextel; Japan’s NEC; France’s Alcatel-Lucent; and Nokia Siemens Networks of Finland. Under the MOUs, these companies have committed to establishing testing centers on the island and increasing purchases of related technologies from Taiwan-based manufacturers.
In recognition of Taiwan’s achievements in promoting the technology, the WiMAX Forum, a worldwide consortium for the global adoption of WiMAX, established three laboratories on the island between 2007 and 2008—one for application testing and two for certification work.
The local industry took a major step forward in April 2009 with Tatung InfoComm inaugurating the nation’s first WiMAX network on the Penghu Islands. A few months after, Tatung launched services in the southern port city of Kaohsiung to coincide with the 2009 World Games. The other five licensees are slated to begin services in the fourth quarter of 2009.
Statistics from the Industrial Development Bureau under the MOEA show that Taiwan produced around 920,000 units of WiMAX consumer-premises equipment (CPE) in 2008, with output value totaling around US$165 million. This represents a whopping 100-percent year-on-year growth and a 90-percent world market share. The bureau expects to see the nation’s CPE output value reach US$3.33 billion in 2013.
Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals
To harness the development potential of the high value-added biotechnology and pharmaceuticals industries, the government initiated the National Science and Technology Program for Biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals in 2000. During its first two phases, the program focused on promoting pharmaceutical and biotech R&D, developing Chinese herbal medicine, and patenting drugs from genomics- and protein-based medication. The program entered its third phase in early 2007 and is developing new drugs for cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and neurological disorders, as well as providing better patent protection for biotech and pharmaceutical innovations.
Launched in 2002, the National Research Program for Genomic Medicine aims to establish a genomic medicine infrastructure and lay out a roadmap for advanced medical biotechnology research in Taiwan. Now in its second phase, the program is focused on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of Taiwan’s three leading afflictions—cancer, infectious illnesses and highly heritable diseases. The program will locate the relevant genes, explore those genes’ functions, devise treatment strategies, develop products and obtain patents. Additionally, the research facilities established under the program are providing scientists with high-quality services, while developing cutting-edge technologies.
e-Learning and Digital Archives
The Taiwan e-Learning and Digital Archives Program (TELDAP) is a continuation of related programs that have existed since 2002. Aside from facilitating e-learning for the public, TELDAP showcases Taiwan’s social, cultural and biological diversities by digitizing artifacts from national institutions such as the National Palace Museum and the Academia Sinica, as well as from private collections.
This program, involving the collaborative effort of 19 government agencies and organizations, has archived over 3.5 million digital images of some two million artifacts over the past six years. The content covers the entire spectrum of the sciences and the humanities and has been divided into six categories: biosphere and nature, life and culture, archives and databases, maps and architecture, arts and illustrations, and languages and multimedia.
These images can all be found at http://catalog.digitalarchives.tw. In addition, the program has set up an e-learning platform at http://www.lort.org.tw that offers more than 35,000 courses to the public.
Taiwan boasts the world’s most competitive and advanced semiconductor manufacturing process, characterized by a high degree of vertical and horizontal integration. Yet in recent years, developing economies such as mainland China and India have emerged as serious contenders by offering lower manufacturing costs and copying Taiwan’s production model. To differentiate itself from these new competitors, Taiwan’s IC industry is beginning to deliver superior designs in lieu of relying exclusively on its manufacturing capability.
To this end, the government launched the National Science and Technology Program for System-on-Chip in 2003. The first phase (2003-2005) saw substantial progress in the R&D of IC design, most clearly reflected in the number of papers local researchers presented at the International Solid State Circuits Conference—a leap from none in 2002 to 18 in 2009. Industrial R&D projects also resulted in the design of central processing units, digital-signal processors, and radio frequency (RF)/analog/mixed-signal modules, which were then integrated to produce chips.
Currently in its second phase (2006-2010) and with a total budget of around US$380 million, the program is targeting the following sub-areas for future development:
Nanoscience and Nanotechnology
The National Science and Technology Program for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology was launched in 2003. Phase I of the program integrated the nation’s resources in this field and expedited the commercialization of nanotechnology. Currently in Phase II, major development areas include nano-electronic and optoelectronic technology, nano-scale instruments, nanotechnology for energy and environmental applications, nano-scale biomedical research, and utilization of nanotechnology in traditional and emerging industries. The program estimates that total output value of nanotech-related products will exceed US$4 billion by 2012 and leap to US$10 billion by 2015.
Taiwan’s Nano Mark is the world’s first government-established system for certifying nanoproducts. Manufacturers wishing to have the mark appear on their products must have them tested to show that they contain material of dimensions less than 100 nanometers and exhibit new and useful characteristics. As of February 2009, 20 firms offering more than 100 products had been granted the mark.
The number of nanotech patents has been witnessing considerable growth. For instance, the total number of such domestic and foreign patents earned by Taiwanese scientists nearly doubled over the past six years, from 485 in 2003 to 947 in 2008.
The newest of the national-level programs, the National Science and Technology Program for Energy was created in 2009 in response to global energy shortages and excessive reliance on fossil fuels. Over the next five years, the government will invest over US$900 million to develop renewable energy and subsidize the installation of energy-saving equipment. Areas to be developed include solar energy, wind power, biomass fuel, ocean energy, geological energy, hydrogen energy and nuclear power.
To reduce the nation’s carbon emissions, the program will study technologies relating to clean coal, carbon capture and sequestration, and afforestation. All of these initiatives will give Taiwan a safe and sustainable energy supply system and bring the island in line with international energy industry norms.