A pair of researchers are calling out intellectual property rules at universities across Canada, saying current practices are stifling entrepreneurism and dissuading inventors from creating university spinoff companies, both of which are key to the country’s economic growth and prosperity.
Bart De Baere is a postdoctoral research fellow of earth, ocean and atmospheric sciences at UBC, and Elicia Maine is a professor of innovation and entrepreneurship and academic director of the Invention to Innovation Program at Simon Fraser University, and together, they argue that for too long, Canada’s support for scientific innovation has been dismal, with not enough funding on offer and too little emphasis put on encouraging the commercialization of research projects initiated within the university system.
“If we want a knowledge-based economy, we need to remove constraints from scientist-entrepreneurs to allow them to succeed,” say De Baere and Maine, writing in the publication University Affairs.
The authors point to the recent federal review of Canada’s science funding framework commissioned by federal Minister of Science Kirsty Duncan and released earlier this year. Called the most comprehensive review of the country’s science funding scheme in over four decades, the review castigated the current system for being risk-averse rather than proactively supporting new research by young scholars.
Dubbed the Naylor Report, the review declared that “Canadian peer review committees favour proposals using proven techniques, in areas that have been productive in the past” and called for a major overhaul, including the creation of a National Advisory Council on Research and Innovation and an upping of base funding by federal agencies from the current $3.5 billion a year to $4.8 billion.
“Everything is ultimately going to come down to knowledge and research in the decades ahead,” said Dr. David Naylor, former president of the University of Toronto and lead on the federal report. “Either we keep up or we lose ground.”
Central to that task will be a change to intellectual property policies at Canadian universities, say De Baere and Maine, which currently are too focused on short-term cost recovery metrics. Rather than worrying about licensing revenues (which amount to mere tens of millions in comparison to the $2.5 billion in federally funded research income) and, as is typical, claiming up to two-thirds of revenues generated from any product, universities should give full IP rights to researchers, say De Baere and Maine, thereby encouraging commercialization.
“We advocate for a harmonized university IP policy based on the University of Waterloo’s IP rights policy,” say De Baere and Maine. “Referred to as the ‘creator-owned’ model, at U of Waterloo full IP ownership is granted to the inventor.”
The authors quote Scott Inwood, head of Waterloo’s Commercialization Office (WatCo), who says that even without owning a piece of the research, the university benefits by building a reputation as an institution where innovative products get their start. “Essentially, we want to get out of the way, from an administrative perspective, and just let creators explore the best commercialization pathway for themselves,” says Inwood. “Ultimately, the goal is to drive as much knowledge transition from the University of Waterloo, regardless of how it gets done.”
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