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Made in Germany

Jürgen Pfister

Pinstripes off, overalls on! Made in Germany is sending Germany's top economists out into the field to get their hands dirty.

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The experts are finally going to have to put their money where their mouth is. And you get to vote - Who is Germany`s "Economist of the Year"? Episode 7: Jürgen Pfister at the German Patent Office

Jürgen Pfister, chief economist at the Bayerische Landesbank, is convinced that only innovation, ideas and creativity will allow Germany to survive international competition. Lacking big deposits of raw supplies and with high wage costs, all that is left is a wealth of ideas. But he says there is much to do, because although Germans apply for more patents than all other European countries, they are slow to put them into practice. Every patent application must pass through the German Patent and Trade Mark Office in Munich. In the document reception office, Jürgen Pfister ploughs through the mountains of inventions that arrive daily. He passes ideas from the patent office, which checks formalities to the patent examiners who check the contents ... the first stages on a route that takes 18 months. Reporter Kristina Block says this is very slow when Chinese competitors are hard on his heels.

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Big business is being done here in the trading room at the Bayerische Landesbank. Jürgen Pfister and his team of economists keep a close watch on the pulse of Germany's economy.

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But now Pfister has to leave the world of interest, profits, and growth rates. He has a special task. His assignment is to increase the pace of innovation in Germany. He says Germany is in danger of falling behind in global competition. It needs ideas, and it needs them soon. "We already see many countries -- China and India are prime examples -- catching up fast, in industry as well as in services. Take for example the development of software in India. And if we want to defend our lead -- while burdened with much higher production costs -- then we have to keep coming up with new ideas and remain on the frontier of new knowledge."

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Pfister wants a faster pace of innovation, so now's his chance to contribute to that. The economist will spend the day in Germany's patent office. Everything invented in Germany goes through this agency. This office receives 200 patent applications every day. Nineteen staff members process them. Today there is one more. The first rule: things are a bit more casual here than in the bank. Mr. Pfister's first task is to open a file.

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Before an idea can be patented, it has to be registered, examined, signed off, and filed. In triplicate, of course. This new employee learns fast. Others often need two or three months before they master their tasks. Pfister thinks that's a bit too long. He thinks he'd be getting on fine in two days. But then he worked in Kiel's tax office after graduating from high school. So working in a government office isn't so unfamiliar. And it has its own special pleasures. "That's a nice feeling, using this federal eagle stamp... It's an act of state. It's not just some stamp: it's something special."

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Then the new files have to be distributed in the agency. Pfister steps on it... maybe that will increase the pace of innovation. "I'm very surprised at the number of applications coming in every day. And I can't wait to see how the specialists in the various departments process them." Seven hundred civil servants work here and examine whether an idea is really worth awarding a patent. And that can take a year and a half. Pfister thinks that's a very long time. He suggests that the agency use more computers.

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The office has its own pace. Pfister learns that the civil servants have reasons for their tempo. Not much can be accomplished in a single day. Maybe we should send Mr. Pfister here again -- this time on a long-term experiment. Because work is over for today. But for now, Mr. Pfister is heading back to the bank...

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This is Jürgen Pfister personal experience of going to the patent office:

1. DW-TV: What did you first think when you found out Deutsche Welle wanted you to send you into the public?
Jürgen Pfister: Good idea! (hopefully won't be taken too literally).

2. DW-TV: What appealed to you about the experience?
Jürgen Pfister: Testing my own impressions , ideas and prejudices.

3. DW-TV: What expectations did you set out with?
Jürgen Pfister: I was excited and curious.

4. DW-TV: Did you like the contact with the public?
Jürgen Pfister: Very much: The actual talk was held with a specialist who is just as near or distant from the public as me; so in this way my visit was fairly different to that of some of my colleagues.

5. DW-TV: Did anything surprise you, maybe also about yourself?
Jürgen Pfister: It was very clear and noticable that we spend most of our time (and have done for many years) in our own enviroment. The banking and finacial sector, which certainly has its particularities for advisors.

6. DW-TV: What was your greatest challenge there?
Jürgen Pfister: To satisfy the wishes of the tv professionals.

7. DW-TV: What experience have you come away with (personal as well as professional)?
Jürgen Pfister: I've learnt I should get out more, and I'm now more interested in the topic of inovation.


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