Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Good morning, honourable members. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to present to the committee today.
My name is Rob Annan, and I am the director of policy, reporting and evaluation at Mitacs.
Mitacs is a national research organization that supports Canadian innovation through collaborative research projects linking Canadian businesses with leading experts at Canadian universities.
Our flagship program, Mitacs-Accelerate, supports two-way knowledge transfer through industrial research internships that place graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in industrial research settings where they apply the skills and expertise they have gained through their studies to industry-focused research needs.
This program supports increased R and D at Canadian companies and represents an effective research model that leverages the strengths of the industrial and academic sectors to the mutual benefit of each, with the effect of building long-term innovation into the Canadian economy.
Accelerate has grown from 18 internships in 2007 to roughly 2,000 internships this year, delivered from coast to coast in every sector and academic discipline. The program is supported in part through Industry Canada's industrial research and development internship program, but also through the support of nine of our ten provinces. P.E.I. is just about to join, I think. Nearly 2,000 Canadian companies have collaborated with our universities through the program, and roughly 60% of those are SMEs.
Mitacs has several other innovation programs, but they're all built on the same general model of bringing together industry and academia in research projects to the mutual benefit of each.
The challenge, of course, and the reason there's so much discussion around this area, is that Canada suffers from a lack of productivity related to poor innovation. We have below average BERD spending, we're in the bottom third of PhD graduates per capita, and we're 14th out of 17 OECD countries in terms of patents produced per population.
But we do have exceptional output from our research universities. We're 10th in the world in per capita academic publications. We're even higher in some areas; we're world leaders in things like life sciences. Our universities are among the highest ranked in the world.
Canada's education landscape is shifting increasingly towards sponsored research, from around 13% of university research budgets in the early 1990s to over 25% by the mid 2000s. This process is continuing, including the reallocation of some tri-council funds towards sponsored research in the most recent budget, yet we have not witnessed a commensurate increase in the output of innovation or commercial products.
Nevertheless, last week's OECD economic report about Canada recommends greater integration of our universities and colleges with industry and says this is a key opportunity for boosting Canadian innovation. The challenge, of course, is how to do it effectively.
Currently the model for collaboration largely focuses on the commercialization of university discoveries through licensing or other IP transfer agreements. This generally occurs through tech transfer offices marketing university-produced IP to businesses. This research push approach creates challenges, especially where inventors and businesses may disagree over the value of early-stage research discoveries.
Mitacs' programs employ a demand-driven industry pull approach to research, where companies with a specific research need can seek to access academic expertise, which may involve some university IP. But the application of IP in this case is more clear and its value to both parties is easier to determine, posing less potential for disagreement.
Commercialization of university IP from the research push side can be supported through skills training for graduate students, post-docs, providing them business and entrepreneurship skills so that inventors are better positioned to commercialize their own discoveries.
From Mitacs' perspective, Mitacs takes no stake in IP. We leave it to the parties to navigate, often through agreements like CRIAQ's, but we also have some boilerplate agreements where we're able to facilitate where there are challenges. Generally, commercial rights that are directly related to the project are retained by the company, and academic rights and commercial rights not directly related are retained by universities.
Of over 4,000 projects Mitacs has supported to date, only a handful have had IP issues. We find in many cases it's not even worthwhile to have an IP allocation. For instance, in IT the shelf life of some of these inventions is so short the technology is outdated before the patent is actually granted. In these cases we suggest that companies will put in a small delay of publication and incorporate the invention into the products within that timeframe.
The Mitacs model also involves the highest industry contribution among collaborative research programs. For this reason the company is actually paying for something, and it often makes IP negotiations easier to handle.
Finally, the demand-driven industry pull model Mitacs employs means definitions are generally clear. Our projects often involve either one of two cases: either companies are applying pre-existing university-generated IP to a specific company problem or a company is applying university expertise to pre-existing industry IP. It is relatively rare for our projects to involve the creation of novel IP. This is because we tend to initiate collaboration a little further down the innovation pipeline, after that invention and discovery phase but before the strict commercialization phase.
In conclusion, we believe that collaborative research between industry and universities and colleges represents a valuable opportunity to boost innovation. Intellectual property is clearly an important component of this collaboration. But focusing on a demand-driven approach to research collaboration will help mitigate the challenges and will provide ample opportunity for all to benefit.