Evidence of meeting #32 for Industry, Science and Technology in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was patents.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Gay Yuyitung  Business Development Manager, McMaster Industry Liaison Office, McMaster University
  • Scott Inwood  Director, Commercialization, University of Waterloo
  • David Barnard  President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Manitoba
  • Digvir Jayas  Vice-President, Research and International, University of Manitoba
  • Catherine Beaudry  Associate Professor, Department of Mathematical and Industrial Engineering, École Polytechnique de Montréal , As an Individual

9:30 a.m.

Director, Commercialization, University of Waterloo

Scott Inwood

Because the stuff in the university that we see is very early, there is quite often a requirement to package it—at least to build the first prototype to validate that the technology works, to de-risk to the point that somebody will open up a chequebook and buy something, so that they can actually be inspired that there's a product there and that at least the technical risk has been addressed.

I found from my own perspective that the Canadian receptor base is primarily dominated by SMEs, and they are risk averse. They don't have a lot of disposable resources to invest in those de-risking opportunities, so to encourage them to take that leap of faith and to license it in and move forward with it, we have to bear that weight I guess as much as possible. Then we have more likelihood of getting the technologies licensed, particularly to Canadian entities.

It's not as big a problem, quite frankly, with international companies. Of course, we do research with large U.S. and European companies, and they're quite often more amenable to licensing the technology without those de-risking opportunities. But in the Canadian context, de-risking seems to be much more important to encourage the private sector to take them on.

9:30 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

The next question really is for all the panellists to consider and to maybe respond to. Often in industries people look at best practices between industries. There are often group associations. I know there are the university associations as well.

Is there any inclination to look at some basic things—I don't want to say it's one size fits all—across all universities, because it seems to me that you're competing for faculty? I think universities in Canada are set up this way. You're competing for faculty and you're developing your own policies and your own models independently of each other. Or maybe you're not—and you can let me know if that's the case.

But does it make any sense that there would be IP policies that fit across universities? I'm thinking about you describing, in the case of the University of Manitoba, considering the policy and deciding on whether it's 100% researcher owned or there's a split in the ownership. Could you comment on that? Has it been considered that it would be better to not have that but to have a certain consistency across the country?

Maybe we can start with you, David.

9:35 a.m.

President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Manitoba

Dr. David Barnard

Thank you.

This notion of best practices is a nice way to come at this argument, I think, or this topic. Certainly, there clearly are dominant best practices in a lot of areas, but the reality in universities is that most of these arrangements have been negotiated as part of collective agreements, which are not trivial to change. I would say that the suggestion we tabled is a way to think about making progress, without having to go back to the fundamental parameters of the negotiated agreement, and to say, “Let's just make it simpler”.

We can make progress faster by changing some of the parameters and the way we wield the tool we have in our hand. So we may have a slightly different shape of wrench in our hand than Scott has, but we can get similar results by using ours in a slightly different way. Rather than try to renegotiate with our colleagues to do exactly what Scott does, or vice versa, where he would renegotiate and do exactly what we do, our proposed approach to our colleagues and our potential industrial partners—which seems to be getting considerable positive response—is let's try to mask the details of the underlying mechanism with an implementation approach that moves faster.

So yes, at one level it might be attractive to think about having all these be the same, but because they're embedded in complicated arrangements—typically, collective agreements—it would be difficult to go there. It's probably not difficult to make progress by some of us doing things in more creative ways than we've done before.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Digvir?

9:35 a.m.

Vice-President, Research and International, University of Manitoba

Dr. Digvir Jayas

The current policies and different policies of the universities don't hinder...in terms of the collaboration. I think a good example is the national centres of excellence program. Those NCE projects typically would involve over a dozen universities. They may have different policies, but we come to an agreement on how we would make the IP transfer from that research to the industry. So in that sense, those different policies don't really get in the way.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Does anyone else want to comment?

9:35 a.m.

Associate Professor, Department of Mathematical and Industrial Engineering, École Polytechnique de Montréal , As an Individual

Dr. Catherine Beaudry

I'll just make a quick note that in our study of biotechnology we have looked at the various incentive mechanisms that have been put in place by the various universities in Canada. On the number of patents that the different universities have, we find no impact depending on the incentive structures they have, such as depending on whether the IP belongs entirely to the professor, or whether the IP belongs to the university or it's shared, and as for who pays for the patenting or whatever, we find no difference.

So I don't think the problem is in the incentive mechanism. It's probably more in the creative way of doing things.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Brant, ON

Further to that would be when you're collaborating between countries, or universities between countries.... For example, we were just recently in Brazil where there are 75 collaboration agreements signed between universities. Would it be the same type of one-off negotiations with and between those institutions and, as you've described here, the University of Manitoba?

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Sweet

Be very brief.

9:35 a.m.

Vice-President, Research and International, University of Manitoba

Dr. Digvir Jayas

The negotiations with institutions outside of Manitoba would be similar kinds of arrangements. But in your example, those students would typically come to Canadian universities and work within our framework. If we developed a collaborative agreement we would take that into consideration.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair David Sweet

Thank you very much.

That's all the time we have for that round.

Now we'll go to Mr. Regan for seven minutes.

May 17th, 2012 / 9:35 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

My thanks to our witnesses for joining us today.

Professor Beaudry, I would like to talk about the way in which we can improve the research funding system in Canada. You mentioned companies that have developed rapidly because of their good patents. Which indicators should we use to distinguish good patents from bad ones, or less useful ones, so that the system can be improved?

9:35 a.m.

Associate Professor, Department of Mathematical and Industrial Engineering, École Polytechnique de Montréal , As an Individual

Catherine Beaudry

It is difficult to do beforehand, but it can be easily measured after the fact. There are various indicators for measuring the quality of patents. The first is the number of claims on the patent. That shows the scope of the various applications of the patent.

To find out the number of citations of a patent, you have to wait until other patents have quoted it. That can take five or ten years, which is already too late in a number of sectors. When a patent is renewed after four, eight or twelve years, that is when you can measure whether it is really useful. The decision to maintain a patent is made by the company or the person who decides the usefulness and whether to keep the property. So it is really difficult to tell good patents from bad ones at the time they are issued.

Your second question was about funding, but I don't know what you had in mind.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Halifax West, NS

I think you have answered my question.

I would like to go back to the question about the types of research. Collaboration between private companies and universities is important, but we have to be able to count on permanent funding from the federal government, not only for research specifically aimed at bringing products to market, but also for more general research.

Other witnesses have come to tell us that we should be funding commercial profit-driven research. In your experience, does profit-driven research work like that, or is it often the case that advances come from where they are least expected and where the research is deeper?

9:40 a.m.

Associate Professor, Department of Mathematical and Industrial Engineering, École Polytechnique de Montréal , As an Individual

Catherine Beaudry

I personally feel that it is important to maintain funding for what is called “blue sky research”, meaning research that can go anywhere and find anything.

I have seen you all with your BlackBerrys this morning. Maxwell's equations form the basis for the transmission of electronic signals. Fifty years passed before Hertz and Marconi put them to work. I feel sure that, these days, Mr. Maxwell would not have received any funding, so no one would have a cell phone. We have to keep funding discovery research.

Of course, we have to maintain an overall balance between basic research, applied research and subsequently the commercialization of research. Otherwise, discovery research will no longer exist. We may well have brought a lot of things to market, but there will be nothing coming down the pipeline. We have to keep an idea going until it becomes commercial, in a sequence and including all the feedback loops. So granting agencies play a very important role, that of funding basic research. Genome Canada, for example, has funded research that, for the moment, has not led to a lot of commercial applications. But you have to learn to walk before you can run, if I can put it that way.