We use the Innovation Chain to describe the process by which new technology is typically brought to market. Whilst research and development (R&D) activities are important steps in the process, it must always be remembered that successful R&D does not automatically guarantee successful commercial products. It is therefore important to consider the chain as a whole from the start of any technology development project.


schematic of innovation chain


R&D is defined as ‘creative work undertaken on a systematic basis in order to increase the stock of knowledge, including knowledge of man, culture and society, and the use of this stock of knowledge to devise new applications.’ It involves the presence of an appreciable element of novelty and the resolution of scientific and/or technological uncertainty.

The Innovation Chain comprises five main activities:

  • Basic research, which is experimental or theoretical work undertaken primarily to acquire new knowledge of the underlying foundation of phenomena and observable facts, without any particular application or use in view. Not all technology development projects require this step.
  • Applied research, which is also original investigation undertaken in order to acquire new knowledge. It is, however, directed primarily towards a specific practical aim or objective.
  • Experimental development, which is systematic work, drawing on existing knowledge gained from research and / or practical experience, which is directed to producing new materials, products or devices, to installing new processes, systems and services, or to improving substantially those already produced or installed. This is likely to include a significant amount of component and sub-system testing.
  • A field trial, which involves full-scale system testing and operation under real deployment conditions in order to monitor and demonstrate performance. This may be preceded by a pilot test of a smaller-scale system, depending on the costs and resources required.
  • Commercialisation, which involves the production or manufacture and delivery of multiple units in a consistent, timely and cost-effective manner.