The Italian maritime cluster represents for Italy an important economic sector contributing to 2.6% of national GDP, 11% of production in the industry of transport, and using almost 1% of the units of work identified in the country, share as high as 2% including the impact of upstream and downstream, for a total of around 480,000 employees (Cluster and maritime development in Italy and in the regions CENSIS - September 2011). In the European scenario Italy keeps the 1st place in Europe in terms of imports across the sea (185.4 million tonnes of freight), and the 3rd in terms of exports (47 million - not far from Germany and the Netherlands). Moreover Italy is in the first place in the passenger transport sector with 6.7 million people as a base and cruise destinations. Italians strengths are the high quality of the service and the products manufactured, the high degree of internationalization, the significant heritage of skilled labor available, innovation linked to shipbuilding.
In the research sector, considering both private and public sectors, there are about 1,500 researchers working in Italy's marine, naval and nautical industry, as well as a certain involvement on the part of the universities. The marine research sector includes various public research bodies (CNR, OGS, INGV, ENEA, ISPRA, Stazione Zoologica) and Inter-university consortia (CoNISMa, CINFAI). Despite the fragmentation of activities, which has until now hampered the implementation of broad-based measures of a strategic nature, this sector can count on scientific excellence and leadership in the study of the Mediterranean Sea. Fishing research is conducted mainly by public bodies such as the CNR and ISPRA (ex-ICRAM), as well as by universities, research cooperatives, consortia and local organisations.
RITMARE represents an opportunity without precedent for the Italian “marine system”, and a challenge for the participants. The Project will make it possible to reorganise the world of research currently existing in Italy, overcoming – thanks to a single coordinating body – the misunderstandings that in the past often led to a fragmentation of knowledge in the name of freedom of research. The Project also involves many private companies working in the sector and, as a result of technological transfer, will enhance the competitiveness of Italian industry.
From the research point of view, it is above all a matter of getting research bodies to converge on a common programme, reducing the negative effects of their fragmentation and catalysing, with greater continuity, Italy's presence at the international planning tables. In this sense, two aspects are particularly significant: the recognition and reorganisation of scientific excellence wherever it may be found, which means ensuring that individual research groups get the international credit they deserve, maximising the positive effect of the RITMARE funding. A more coordinated and better supported Italian presence at the tables where the European marine strategy is discussed will enable Italy to increase its capacity to access common funding for research. In addition, for the first time ever in Italy RITMARE provides the opportunity to train a new generation of young researchers, for example via research-industry joint PhDs in cutting-edge disciplines with high technological content.
The private companies in this sector will also gain an interface with the technological component of marine research, which for the first time will be the unique and preferred interlocutor with the shipbuilding sector: this will enable the industry to draw from the very best of the Italian scientific community. As well as helping to meet the demand for innovation on the part of the shipbuilding sector, the RITMARE project offers a chance to involve Italian industry in the themes of the construction of the new equipment and innovative technologies that are necessary for the relaunch of cutting-edge research and smart monitoring of the marine environment.
Special attention will be paid to the dissemination and technological transfer of the results of the various activities and their conversion into monetary value in terms of patents. With the support of the dedicated structures already active within the Italian National Research Council (CNR), a technological transfer office is responsible for evaluating the market potential of the research results and for extracting the maximum value from the invention (via support for project management and project financing for the prototyping and engineering phases, etc.). It also helps to find partners for the commercial exploitation of the patents, provides technical support for the drawing up of contracts and management of intellectual property rights and assistance for the registering of patents. The technological transfer office will assist the various research bodies and consortia participating in the Project in the creation of new companies with high technological content (spin-offs), providing training in entrepreneurship and support for the evaluation of the initiative's market potential, the drawing up of the business plan and the management and coordination of business incubator activities. The information provided to companies will be constantly edited and organised so as to help identify applied research themes and potential industrial partners. Companies will be constantly updated on the progress achieved and channels of communication will be activated with professional and business associations and public organisations present in their region.