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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 patent.

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

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

Phil McColeman Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Liberal 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 Liberal 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.

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

So we can understand why Mr. Lazaridis has contributed so much to support theoretical physics.

Theoretical physics. C'est correct?

Let me turn to Dr. Barnard. As a president of a university, how do you decide the relative priority between focusing on trying to get patents and other intellectual property endeavours within the overall mandate of the university compared to the general mandate of education?

9:40 a.m.

President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Manitoba

Dr. David Barnard

Sorry, if I can just—

9:40 a.m.

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

In terms of the general mandate of an institution of higher learning, how do you figure out the relative priority in terms of the funding for pursuing patents and intellectual property as opposed to other things, which are of course commanding your resources? That's got to be a constant problem.

9:45 a.m.

President and Vice-Chancellor, University of Manitoba

Dr. David Barnard

Right. It's a constant problem for all universities on all aspects of the mission—learning, discovery, and engagement of the community, all of which need to be balanced. That's what research universities are contributing to Canada. As some others on the panel said earlier, patents are part of the evidence of productivity on the research side, and there can be, as Scott said earlier, vanity patents, but there can be vanity publications as well. There's a continuing need that's best met by peers in the disciplines to actually evaluate the work that people are doing.

I think the broader answer to your question is that the work of faculty members is observed and tracked through peer review within their own units, and proxies of that by others from outside who review publications and so on. We try to assess our faculty members making substantial contributions, and it can vary. Computer scientists may not have patents but they may have software. They may have ideas that may eventually become software in some company. I think it's a continual process, and overall, we look to see some macroscopic balance between teaching, research, and engagement in the actual work of solving public problems. We look into the individual departments and faculties for what the particular discriminations would be. Engineers are different. Well, Digvir is one. So—

9:45 a.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

9:45 a.m.

Vice-President, Research and International, University of Manitoba

Dr. Digvir Jayas

So is Catherine.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative David Sweet

On that note of difference, folks, we're over time. We need to go to our next round, which will be five-minute questions.

So we go on to Madam Gallant.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and through you to our witnesses.

Can you speak to the evolution of IP policy at Canadian universities? How does the evolution at our universities compare to that of other countries?

9:45 a.m.

Vice-President, Research and International, University of Manitoba

Dr. Digvir Jayas

I would say that the evolution at our universities is certainly similar to that in other G-8 or developed countries, in terms of IP policies. Most universities' IP policies are the same, in that we would do the initial filing of the application and have that year then to make a decision as to whether we want to protect that IP further. We would try to identify a partner who would be willing to work with us in protecting that IP and moving it forward, and that would basically help guide us in terms of development of policy.

The differences between individual institutions are in how the returns from that IP are shared with the investigators. Some places such as Waterloo have 75-25 split, as an example. Ours is 50-50. In some places it could be 20-80. That's one variation in terms of how the proceeds are shared.

Another variation in intellectual property is in terms of ownership issues. It could be 100% owned by the researchers, as at Waterloo. It could be 100% owned by the institution, as in the U.S. through the Bayh-Dole Act. Or it could be something in between. As an example, ours is owned 50-50 between the inventor and the university.

In terms of the overall direction, when you look at the Association of University Technology Managers' data on intellectual property in terms of the number of patents filed per million dollars of research, Canada fairs reasonably well in those statistics, and certainly in comparison with the U.S.

So the policy differences are more on how proceeds are distributed and what the ownership is in terms of property. Otherwise the general framework is the same.

9:45 a.m.

Director, Commercialization, University of Waterloo

Scott Inwood

To comment on that, in the U.S. there are actually quite a few murmurings about whether the Bayh-Dole Act has outlived its useful purpose. There was a recent court case, Stanford v. Roche, where the university's claim to ownership of an inventor's IP was challenged. It has caused great consternation among my U.S. colleagues.

The Kauffman Foundation in the U.S. is also advocating for a more open IP ownership policy. In Canada we have this policy-driven IP environment at the universities, and I wouldn't advocate for a creator-owned approach, necessarily. I think it really comes down to the culture of the institution. At our university it works because we have entrepreneurially oriented faculty members, and it's better sometimes just to get out of the way and let them go with it. But in other universities, where the culture is not that way, maybe nothing would happen if you didn't have an institution that owned the IP and at least took some proactive steps to protect it and try to push it out there.

True to the Canadian spirit, there's something to be said about diversity and embracing the diversity of different IP policies, and it is quite interesting to see what is going on in the U.S. right now. They're possibly migrating to a policy framework that we have here in Canada.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

It was stated earlier—and just correct me, if I didn't get this completely straight—that patent generation from Canadian universities was 55% less than in other parts of the world.

Was that the correct statistic?

9:50 a.m.

Director, Commercialization, University of Waterloo

Scott Inwood

It was 55% less in Ontario compared to similar U.S. jurisdictions. Canadian companies invest in patenting 55% less than their U.S. competitors do.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

Okay, so it's a matter of the companies investing, not that we're patenting 55% less.

9:50 a.m.

Director, Commercialization, University of Waterloo

Scott Inwood

Right. The number of patents is broadly viewed as a measure of the innovation capacity of industy. It says that the Canadian private sector is not investing heavily in the patent space, and, therefore, it's a reflection of innovative capacity. There's a notion there again that universities don't commercialize, that it's the private sector that commercializes.

There really needs to be more of a focus on encouraging the private sector to act. We can lead the horse to water, but we can't make it drink.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Cheryl Gallant Conservative Renfrew—Nipissing—Pembroke, ON

If the policies that we have in Canada regarding working with the private sector are similar to those for other universities in the G-8, what seems to be the hurdle in getting companies to collaborate with our universities?