Infographic: America's Energy Prices Vs. The World

Think your electricity bill is high? It's not. Neither is your heating bill or the price you pay at the pump. In the grand scheme of things, in fact, you're getting a great deal.

Gas costs too much. So does heating oil. And electricity. Americans love to complain about the cost of our energy. On the campaign trail, politicians love to offer policies that will lower it. But, as we've heard time and time again, our energy prices are actually blissfully low when compared to the rest of the world. Would it be nice if gas were cheaper? Certainly. But try telling a fellow in Europe what you pay to fill up and he'd probably offer you a hearty congratulations (before laughing at you about your gas mileage).

This infographic from WellHome combines many of the stats about global energy costs into one helpful package. For instance, unless you're one of the few people who scrutinize your electric bill every month, you probably have no idea what you're paying per kilowatt hour, just a general sense of what your bill is at the end of every month. Well, the average American is getting off easy compared countries like Italy or Denmark, where residents pay two and three times more, respectively, for their units of power:

And it's not just electricity. In terms of natural gas and heating oil, we're also getting a great deal:

To add to our general confusion about energy, our sense of the inexorable increase of energy prices is also wrong. They've been basically steady (relative to inflation) for the past 50 years. With the exception of gas prices, which are currently skyrocketing for the second time since 1960, most energy prices are basically constants:

And why is that? It certainly has something to do with the massive subsidies we offer energy companies, or at least the energy companies that don't make renewable energy:

Is knowing how well-off we are compared to the rest of the world going to quiet the incessant drumbeat about high energy prices? Certainly not. That would be un-American. Check out the whole infographic below or see it here.


Painting Your Roof White Doesn't Work

That's just one of the myths debunked in a new paper on the climate.

Painting roofs white has been--like changing lightbulbs--one of the well-cited easy ways out of climate change. By reflecting more light and heat back to the atmosphere, a white roof should act like a natural anti-warming device, while also reducing your energy costs by keeping your house cool in the summer. Turns out, painting your roof white would be simply a massive waste of white paint.

As it is, Mark Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford and his colleague, research student John Ten Hoeve, found in a new paper in the Journal of Climate that while white surfaces cooled houses, they also reduced cloudiness, allowing more sunlight to reach the ground. That conclusion complements a recent study by the National Center for Atmospheric Research that found that the positive effect of white roofs in the summer would be offset by a negative effect in the winter. 

"There does not seem to be a benefit from investing in white roofs," says Jacobson. "The most important thing is to reduce emissions of the pollutants that contribute to global warming."

Solar panels are a better idea than white paint, he says. “The better thing to do is to put a solar panel on the roof because that not only cools the house by absorbing the sunlight to make electricity. It also offsets fossil fuel generation at power plants.”

Jacobson is similarly against other geo-engineering approaches, such as the idea of pumping tons of sulphur particles into the atmosphere to reflect light back into space. 

“With all geo-engineering approaches, you are not solving the problem but masking it. There are all kinds of consequences people are not aware of, and it doesn't solve the problem. You are still going to have all these greenhouse gases going into the air.”

Among other debunkings in the report: the finding that “urban heat islands”--the heating effect of covering vegetation with buildings and roads--may have as much impact on the climate as greenhouse gasses.

Heat islands are an attractive explanation for two reasons. One, nobody disputes that cities produce more heat than rural areas. Roofs and sidewalks absorb more sunlight than greenery, and reduce evaporation, lessening the natural cooling effect. Cities also see more human activity, producing heat from transport, air conditioning, and the like. 

Moreover, the effect of heat islands on climate change has been under-studied. Jacobson says until recently nobody had ever done research covering the global impact, including the impact of “feedbacks” between urban surfaces and the atmosphere.

But it turns out that since the Industrial Revolution only 2 to 4 percent of "gross" global warming has been caused by heat islands, while 79 percent can put down to greenhouse gasses, and 18 percent is due to "black carbon" (soot in the air that absorbs sunlight). 

“Two to 4 percent is small relative to other contributors. But people who are contrarian to global warming suggest that heat islands are responsible for a large part of global warming. This and sunspots are the main arguments of climate skeptics,” says Jacobson.

[Image: Walmart's Flickr stream]

As Gas Use Declines, Americans Still Spend More On Gas

A new report outlines the insidious "energy trap," a spiral of gas costs that poor people--forced to live far from their jobs and unable to invest in clean cars--fall into. Here's how to break it.

If you have to commute to work, and don’t live in an area with good public transportation, there’s not much you can do when gas prices rise except bite the bullet and pay more. With unemployment hovering around 9% and middle-class incomes stagnant, few people can afford an electric car or get a new job closer to home. The result? Low- and middle-income Americans are finding themselves spending an ever larger percentage of their income on gas, even as they have less money to spare.

That’s the frustrating conclusion of a new report from the New America Foundation called The Price-Induced Energy Trap: Exploring the Impacts of Transportation Expenditures on the American Economy.

According to the report, by the end of 2011, Americans will have spent more than $490 billion on gas--more than in any previous year and $100 billion more than in 2010--despite a projected decline in gas consumption.

Most shocking, however, is how this "energy trap" affects low- and middle-income families who live in rural areas where there aren’t alternatives to driving. In 2008, when gas prices shot up to roughly $4 per gallon, residents in big cities could adjust by taking public transportation. But in Montana, gas ate up 19.3% of the median income. In Mississippi it was 18.8%.

High unemployment can make the energy trap worse, because people are forced to drive more to find work. Darren, in the video below, spends a full 51% of his income on gas and other car-related expenses now that he works two jobs.

[youtube rAG5NlxibU8]

According to the report, families that are squeezed especially hard by transportation costs find themselves with less money for things like medicine and education, which sets them up for even more economic hardship later on.

So what’s the solution? The report’s authors recommend expanding bus service, giving people low-interest loans to buy fuel-efficient cars, and making it easier for entrepreneurs to enter the transportation market.

But eventually, we’re going to need to somehow break the gas habit for good.

[Image: Flickr user Kansas Poetry (Patrick)]

What Happens To The Ocean If We Use It For Energy?

Wave power is virtually unlimited. But like all disruptions to nature, it will probably have some ill effects. Now IBM and friends are trying to figure them out in a controlled setting, before it's too late.

Renewable energy generators may not be as toxic as coal plants, but they come with their own set of problems. Solar installations can impinge on wildlife habitats, wind turbines can garble air traffic control, and wave energy devices can cause underwater noise that has unknown consequences for marine life used to living in relative silence.

So IBM and The Sustainable Energy Authority Ireland (SEAI) are teaming up to produce one of the largest collections of underwater acoustic data ever recorded, all as part of an attempt to figure out what impact wave energy devices have on their surrounding ecosystems.

Wave energy's potential is virtually unlimited. After all, the ocean has no shortage of waves. But there are no global noise standards for wave energy devices, and no one has ever assessed the impact of wave energy noise in the ocean--until now. IBM's system, which consists of sensing platforms, a communications infrastructure, and real-time, streaming analytics, will first be deployed in Galway Bay, Ireland, where manufacturers often test their wave energy devices.

The bay is also home to the SmartBay project, a collaboration between IBM Research and the Marine Institute Ireland. In addition to the new acoustic analytics system, SmartBay monitors pollution levels, wave conditions, and marine life. In other words, the project is attempting to figure out what, exactly, wave energy does to the ocean.

Next up: a larger grid-connected test site on Ireland's west coast. After that, perhaps more wave energy deployments in Ireland, which currently imports 86% of its energy. And once researchers have a better idea about the environmental effects of wave energy devices, we may see more of them popping up across the globe.

[Image: Ocean Energy Ltd]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

Sociable Labs Helps Retailers Turn Social Chatter Into Sales

Making "social" work for online retailers doesn't have to mean handing over the keys to Facebook. But it does mean letting go of some control, says Social Labs founder Nisan Gabbay. "Let’s move away from business-to-consumer marketing and go back to people-to-people."

sociable labs

Sociable Labs may be the secret weapon retailers have been waiting for when it comes to social media.

The San Mateo, California, startup offers a suite of social applications that can be incorporated right on a retailer’s e-commerce site. The main thing Sociable does, founder Nisan Gabbay tells Fast Company, is to help retailers focus on maximizing sales through social media, not just buzz-building. This can happen more effectively, Gabbay says, if a business gets out of the way of conversations between friends, which are happening on Facbeook (and elsewhere). listings and registration site for outdoor and fitness events like marathons, bike races, and sports camps--used Sociable’s RSVP and Purchase Share applications on their Event Detail and Purchase Confirmation pages early on. People looking through those pages could see listings for events in their area, which events their Facebook friends had signed up to do, and then share their own plans to attend or participate in these events, as soon as they've signed up (and paid) via

Broadcasting news of users' commitment to fitness events translates to awareness and participation in other events listed on, Gabbay says. User engagement is driven more efficiently than a passive “Like” on Facebook. achieved 300% higher conversion rates than it got previously with Facebook and other social media.

Over the past year, the San Mateo-based startup’s been operating in stealth mode with a $75,000 cash infusion from Facebook's fB Fund, and $1 million in subsequent angel funding. This week, Sociable Labs takes its site and service public, and has attained and additional $7 million round led by Battery Ventures. 

Gabbay says that the capital will be used to hire more staff, as well as for sales and marketing. So far, the startup's ten customers include "private sale" style fashion sites Haute Look, Rue La La, and a retailer of clothing and gear for outdoor enthusiasts, Backcountry

nisan gabbayThe second big piece of what Sociable Labs does, via its test-and-learn ROI platform, is to help retailers avoid social media marketing efforts that fail, and repeat the efforts that work. “In the past couple of years retailers have spent millions of dollars on social media, yet most are still not seeing hard ROI from these investments,” says Brian O’Malley, partner at Battery Ventures. “We believe Sociable Labs, with its unique approach to experimentation and ROI optimization is very well positioned to change the status quo.”

The status quo is ready to be shaken up. A recent Forrester study found 62% of retailers said the ROI from their social commerce programs is unclear. Part of the reason may be that it’s too tough to quantify the “soft” results driven by social graphs such as the number of Facebook fans, and the impact of increasing customer engagement or monitoring complaints on Twitter. 


sociable labs roi

Making a sale is a measurable outcome, and having the means to do that right on an e-commerce site can be more effective than setting up a separate storefront on Facebook, says Larry Pluimer, CEO at Indigitous, a provider of "tactical resources" for businesses navigating the digital economy.

“There has been some push back on Facebook,” Pluimer observes, because that is a platform where people just want to talk to their friends. However, friends are the highest authority when it comes to making a purchase, he beileves. More people trust a friend’s advice over a retailer’s recommendation.

Peers are the highest authority, potentially wielding even more influence than a celebrity or an expert which is the key to several emerging social commerce players, including the Twitter-inspired shopping site OpenSky.

Gabbay suggests, while they may be good for buzz-buiding in some way, “Business-to-consumer social campaigns aren’t the solution for retailers to increase sales from social. Instead, retailers should create ways for consumers to effectively do the selling for them on their sites-- where the vast majority of consumers go when they are ready to shop.”

By Sociable Lab’s measurements about 40% of U.S. web users are simultaneously signed into Facebook while they are browsing e-commerce sites. But still, Gabbay says, web users go to retailers' e-commerce sites to learn about and shop for products. 

Though Sociable currently only targets e-commerce, he can see it extending to help market business-to-business products on platforms such as LinkedIn.

“Let’s move away from business to consumer marketing and go back to people to people,” Gabbay says, “This is the future of the social space.”

Lydia Dishman is a Fast Company reporter and producer of 30 Second MBA. email | twitter 

If You Can't Afford Panels, Try Pay-As-You-Go Solar

Simpa Networks offers a simple solution to the expenses of solar installation: pay in installments, just like people do with cell phones.

The great paradox of poverty is that costs more to get the simple basics of life. Energy is no different, and maybe even worse. Solutions to deliver energy to the developing world have centered on technology: solar, batteries and LED bulbs. That's necessary, says Paul Needham,  but it is not enough. Simpa Networks, the company Needham runs, had the great insight was that financial innovation needs to match the technology. Simpa Networks has created a pay-as-you go model for solar power. Customers in the developing world sign up for a for a free residential power system. They pay for nothing except for electricity--in small chunks--just as you would top up a mobile phone with airtime. Once they've bought enough power from their home solar system (typically buying credit from vendors or mobile carriers) the users own it. "At the core, we're making valuable things affordable by separating the thing from the service it provides. That thing is  a solar energy system," says Needham. "We are charging for services that people value, at the moment they value it the most."

The technology is relatively simple: a networked device on the residential solar system allows users to key in a code that unlocks its power for period of time equivalent to the purchased credit. Otherwise, it denies service. It's a radical idea when it comes to energy, but it's already the standard business model for airtime in around the world. It works because the poor, who can't afford a home solar system for $150 to $450, are able to buy small, irregular, and user-defined increments of energy. Eventually, they pay for the entire system creating a permanent source of power that replaces expensive and lethally polluting kerosene. A typical payback period for a family is just 3 to 5 years.   With 1.6 billion without electricity in the world, mostly in developing countries, the impact and the benefits are huge, says Needham.  "When you have access to energy, you can do more things and that often means you can earn more income, which then means you have the ability to spend," he says. Simpa has already signed up 30 customers in Karnataka, India, and plans to reach thousands more in the next year.  It's economic and energy empowerment, on the layaway plan.

[Images: Top, Flickr user flatworldsedge; Bottom, Simpa Networks]

Reach Michael J. Coren via Twitter or email.

Why Digital Talent Doesn’t Want To Work At Your Company

Some digital companies are hiring--and in fact are in hot competition for certain types of employees. But you don't have to be Google to attract top-tier talent.

Why doesn't digital talent want to work at your company? It’s not because you’re a consumer packaged goods company, rather than Google. It’s not because you’re in Ohio instead of Silicon Valley. It’s not because your salaries are too low, or because you don’t offer free food and laundry services.

It’s because you’re not providing them the right opportunity. The talent you want would be happy to work in an un-air-conditioned garage in New Mexico if it meant the chance to change the world.

This, the opportunity to do great things, to make a real difference, is what drives most digital talent--whether they’re developers, designers, producers, marketers or business folks. 

Most companies don’t offer this, so they skip your company and work somewhere that’s more innovative and exciting. End of story. But the good news is that you can offer them something exciting and great. The promise of changing a giant, behind-the-times organization into an Internet-savvy business is an incredibly exciting challenge and a big way for ambitious people to make an impact.  

But it takes more than lip service to make the sale. Job candidates and new hires with digital chops must truly believe in the company’s dedication to digital transformation and they must see that they are empowered to make this change. Trouble is, many big businesses aren’t structured to deliver on this type of opportunity. The attributes of a soul-crushing, Sisyphean, anti-digital workplace run deep.  

Digital talent won’t want to work at your company if:  

Every element of their work will be pored over by multiple layers of bureaucracy. Even if that’s how the rest of the company operates, it can’t spill into the digital department. In a technology environment, new products and businesses spring up daily and a new endeavor can go from conception to launch in a matter of months. Reining in the momentum will be read as inaction and a clear signal the company isn’t willing to grasp the new way of the world.  Mediocre is good enough. While clocking out at 5 p.m. is attractive to some, it will discourage digital talent. They want to be expected to do something great. They want to be pushed. They care about their work. Their leadership, and those they rely on to get things done, must match their appetite for success.   Trial and error is condemned. The freedom to try out new ideas allows employees to take initiative, make decisions, and learn from their mistakes. It also demonstrates an attractive and inspiring entrepreneurial spirit.Your company is structured so it takes a lifetime to get to the top, and as such there are no digital experts in company-wide leadership positions. Digital talent--often in their 20s and 30s--need to see a clear path for uninhibited career development that’s based on merit, not years spent, and that’s beyond the confines of the digital department. If they don’t, they won’t see a reason to stay with the company in the long term.  Your offices are cold, impersonal and downright stodgy. It may sound like it conflicts with the “you don’t need to be in Silicon Valley point,” but appreciate the nuance. A traditional office layout is designed to communicate power among certain individuals and barriers between departments. This does not support the collaborative ethos which is intrinsic to the web. Companies should do everything possible to provide the digital team friendlier, open office space. A location in a hip, young neighborhood (which surely exists in every mid- to large-sized city) is also a big plus.  

When all of these digital-talent deterring points are addressed, company leadership has effectively and proactively demonstrated the company’s dedication to a digital transformation. It is at this time that their words, a broadly communicated firm stance on the significance of the company’s digital goals, will make the most impact. Without this conspicuous top-down support, politics in the organization or simply one influential disbeliever can hinder the effort, limit the extent of digital integration possible, and discourage valuable employees.  

You need them more than they need you. Demand for their services is so high, they can afford to be finicky. If they don’t like where they’re working, another firm with a more attractive culture and more grand opportunity will quickly swipe them up. That could be your company. But it could just as easily be someone else.

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Want To Keep (And Motivate) Your Best Employees? It's Not About The MoneyHow To Discover Amazing Talent For Your StartupYour Next High-Paying Job May Be In An Industry That Was Never On Your RadarWhat It Takes To Get A Job At Google

Adapted from Users Not Customers: Who Really Determines the Success of Your Business (Portfolio), by Aaron Shapiro, CEO of HUGE, a digital agency that helps companies including PespiCo, Comcast, Target, HBO, and Unilever reimagine how they interact with their customers and manage their business in the online economy. Visit

For more leadership coverage, follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

[Image: Flickr user redteam]

Hybrid Air Vehicles Make Gains On Traditional Airplanes

Seventy-four years after the zeppelin, another gas giant arises.

Hybrid Air Vehicles' new aircraft is not technically a blimp. Nor is it a zeppelin, a craft that saw its end with the Hindenburg explosion in 1937 (and a rebirth, of sorts, in the proto-heavy-metal band's name). But it's at least a little of both--a (fittingly) "hybrid air vehicle," or HAV, a mix of airplane, airship, and hovercraft. Hybrid Air Vehicles is attracting business by offering surveillance models (which can fly nonstop for weeks) as well as cargo models (which can tote up to 200 tons). Military contractor Northrop Grumman recently inked a $517 million deal with the firm for its surveillance vehicles, which Northrop will develop for military deployment. Meanwhile, HAV's cargo ships, which the company says are cheaper than comparable airplanes, will debut in northern Canada, where Discovery Air has agreed to pay $3.3 billion for as many as 45 ships outfitted for oil and mining transport.

HOVERCRAFT The HAV's hovercraft system usually pushes the ship upward. But when the system's direction is reversed, the ship is pulled down to earth. If the vessel is carrying less than 25 tons, it lands like a helicopter, moving straight down to the ground.

SHAPE Helium and the HAV's shape keep the ship aloft. Gone are the cigarlike zeppelins of yore. The HAV is sculpted like a "fat wing." That aerodynamic shape also provides 40% of its lift.

EXTERIOR The lacquer-coated cotton and linen used for the Hindenburg's exterior proved highly flammable. The HAV's skin is made from a tough, resilient fabric that can last up to 15 years.

LANDING In the early 20th century, dirigibles were guided by ground crews and docked at giant mooring masts. Thanks to their ability to fly like airplanes--and to land almost anywhere, including on water--HAVs can serve as passenger shuttles, landing in empty parking lots to ferry hundreds (or thousands) of passengers.

PRESSURE-STABILIZED HULL The HAV is filled with helium, which is lighter than air and generates 60% of the vessel's lift. The hull pressure is nearly the same as the air outside, so if you poke a hole through it, the gas inside doesn't come hissing out.

ENGINES Two forward and two aft engines guide the aircraft. They also make for a fuel-efficient flight--the HAV burns as little as a quarter of what an airplane uses. The downside: It tops out at a leisurely 120 mph. A New York to L.A. trip could thus take more than 20 hours.

Details are specific to the Hav 366, which is designed for cargo.

Who Needs A Runway?

Boeing 767-300 freighter SIZE: 180 feet 3 inches long MAXIMUM PAYLOAD: 58 tons REQUIRED TAKEOFF LENGTH: 9,300 feet

HAV 366 SIZE: 358 feet long MAXIMUM PAYLOAD: 50 tons REQUIRED TAKEOFF LENGTH: 1,432 feet

Takeoff lengths are for fully loaded vehicles.

A version of this article appears in the November 2011 issue of Fast Company.

Nerd York City: Why Bloomberg Wants A NYC Tech Campus

Bids are due Friday for a proposed, new applied science university campus in NYC. Mayor Bloomberg says City Hall will donate land and more than $100 million in infrastructure for the project... but will it change New York's tech sector?

New York City is home to two of the world's most prestigious liberal arts universities. The Big Apple is rivaled by Silicon Valley, and on some levels Boston, as a home base for internet and other technology firms. However, New York lacks a major science and technology university. Big names such as Cornell University and Stanford University are competing to open a tech campus on the East River... and, well, New York needs it.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg's administration has been vocal about their desire to bring a world-class applied science school to New York City. The media-titan-turned-mayor is accepting proposals for an applied science campus to be built on city land; submissions are due on Friday, October 28. A who's-who of local and national names are hoping NYC will give them the contract--Stanford University, Cornell University, Columbia University and New York University are all involved in the process.

Columbia University and New York University are both A-list liberal arts institutions with robust science and technology programs. The City University of New York network and the many smaller higher learning institutions throughout the city also provide a roster of new local talent for Silicon Alley. But for all that, there's a problem in the mind of many proud New Yorkers--there's no local tech equivalent to MIT, Stanford or Caltech.

Even though NYU and Columbia have no lack of computer science and artificial intelligence geniuses, they tend to work on purely academic projects rather than creating startup hubs similar to Silicon Valley or Boston's Route 128.

A quick look at Silicon Alley shows that New York's big tech names are all intimately connected to the city's pre-existing industries: finance, media, fashion and advertising. To use just a few examples, microblogging giant Tumblr and first-wave survivors IAC and AOL all rely on the media industry. The city is also full of internet startups catering to Wall Street and the finance crowd. However, the five boroughs lack a significant presence in fields ranging from biotechnology to robotics to mobile communications.

Part of this problem is geographic. New York City--even the outer boroughs--lack the expansive space needed to build horizontal corporate campuses and testing facilities found throughout the rest of America. Eastern Queens and Staten Island are the only in-city areas with that kind of space, but a tangled list of local political concerns make building there quixotic. Any company that needs a large campus for testing and research can simply look to New Jersey, Long Island, upstate New York or Connecticut.

However, the larger problem is that tech hubs almost always grow out of universities. Silicon Alley was an anomaly that was directly created by New York's status and prestige. But at the same time, the allure of the Meatpacking District's bottle-service clubs and Williamsburg's music venues can have a hard time competing with a nearby university infrastructure that's readily churning out tons of willing programmers and scientists. The support network and pre-existing infrastructure that universities offer start-ups is replaced in NYC by a unique business environment that discourages many sectors from taking root.

Proposals for New York's new tech university reflect this fact. Cornell University wants to team up with Israel's Technion Institute for Technology to build a Roosevelt Island campus geared towards quickly bringing products to market. Stanford University's rival campus proposal would integrate with the CUNY system, guaranteeing important political support. Meanwhile, Columbia University argues that they can make the biggest tech university of all by combining a NYC campus with a mammoth Westchester campus. Meanwhile, MIT--perhaps wary of cannibalizing New England talent or maybe because they're just die-hard Red Sox fans--have opted to build a Russian tech research hub instead.

New York City, which is in the middle of a massive budget crisis, will contribute free land and up to $100 million infrastructure costs towards the winning proposal. The winning university is expected open up shop on their new campus sometime around 2015; Roosevelt Island, Governor's Island, Downtown Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Navy Yard are all being floated as possible sites.

For more stories like this, follow @fastcompany on Twitter. Email Neal Ungerleider, the author of this article, here or find him on Twitter and Google+.



Big Pharma Giving Away Drug Patents To Help Cure Tropical Disease

By offering up their drugs for free to developing countries, drug companies hope to make inroads into new markets, and prevent a few diseases along the way.

Intellectual property is crucial for pharmaceutical companies to survive; without it, their pricey blockbuster drugs can be replaced with cheap generics. And yet, big companies like AstraZeneca, Novartis, GlaxoSmithKline, Pfizer, Sanofi, and Merck are willingly putting some of their intellectual property information in a public database. The pharmaceutical industry hasn't gone crazy--it's just participating in an initiative that aims to treat neglected tropical diseases.

WIPO Re:Search, a collaboration between The World Intellectual Property Organization, BIO Ventures For Global Health, pharmaceutical giants, nonprofits, and universities, is offering up a searchable database of intellectual property from drug companies that can aid in the treatment of diseases like tuberculosis, malaria, Chagas disease, and dengue fever. The initiative will also facilitate partnerships between participating organizations to speed up research and development.

"What the researchers want and what the companies are willing to provide is expertise and know-how between the lines of a patent," says Don Joseph, COO of BIO Ventures for Global Health." They can say, here's work we've done before that worked, here's work that we've done before that didn't work. Don't reinvent the wheel."

It's not that there's a lot of money in developing these drugs. According to Joseph, pharmaceutical companies don't make much from malaria drugs currently on the market. But there's another benefit for pharmaceutical companies participating in WIPO Re:Search: The opportunity to create new relationships in countries around the world where they may not presently have any.

No matter the motivation for big pharma, WIPO Re:Search has the potential to speed up the lengthy, risky process of drug and vaccine development for some of the world's poorest citizens. "The goal is to come out of this initiative with as many new products for neglected diseases as possible," says Joseph.

[Image: Flickr user aurelio.asiain]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.