I am Ken Porter, vice-president for intellectual property management at Innovate Calgary. Innovate Calgary is a non-profit corporation that provides economic development support for entrepreneurs and enterprises in Alberta, and technology transfer services for the University of Calgary.
I am also a board member of the Association of University Technology Managers and immediate past chair of the AUTM Canadian subcommittee, through which hundreds of Canadian technology transfer professionals organize networking, training, and advocacy activities. Of note, directors from across Canada will be meeting in Montreal on June 25, and I invite all committee members to join us there.
The mission of an academic research enterprise is to create and disseminate knowledge. Our mission as technology transfer professionals is to support knowledge creation, for example, by facilitating industry-academia research collaborations, and to support knowledge dissemination via commercialization.
Knowledge and technology created over the course of academic research can be transferred to the public through a variety of mechanisms: publications, meetings and presentations, student employment, consulting, industry-sponsored research, licensing, and start-ups.
Relevant to our discussion today, researcher incentives for disclosure and participation in technology transfer and commercialization are unique to each individual. They may include a desire for a positive impact on society, opportunities for industry partnerships, experiential learning and employment opportunities for students, a sense of personal fulfillment, recognition, and financial rewards.
Conversely, there is a variety of reasons why researchers may not choose to disclose IP. They may consider it a distraction, an impediment to scholarship, a source of financial or personal risk, irrelevant to their academic careers, or unlikely to yield any useful outcomes. They may be unaware of the benefits of disclosing IP, or of institutional policy obligations to do so. It also takes time and effort.
Government, academic institutions, and technology transfer professionals can support and encourage researcher participation with time, such as entrepreneurial leave and teaching load reductions, recognition for patent and commercialization activities, funds for research and partnerships, and education.
Universities rely on technology transfer professionals to provide education through outreach, presentations, and workshops. However, Canadian professionals are often stretched to provide essential services, such as patent prosecution, marketing, licensing, and start-up creation, thereby reducing opportunities for outreach. From 1995 until 2009, universities were funded by the tri-council's intellectual property mobility program, which directly supported staff. Since IPM's discontinuation in 2009, however, staffing levels have declined, which has impacted researcher education.
Funds for research and partnership have also been reduced. The popular CIHR proof of principle grants, which directly supported knowledge mobilization, were discontinued in 2016. In addition to bringing back the IPM and POP programs, Canada could enhance academic innovation through programs such as the U.S. SBIR and STTR programs, both of which leverage university IP and research capabilities.
An example of a current Canadian funding and collaborative research program, funded by Western Economic Diversification, is the Western Canadian Innovation Offices consortium, which incorporates features of both the IPM and POP programs.
WCIO connects western Canadian industry needs with the research and innovation resources at WCIO's 40-member consortium of universities, colleges, and polytechnics. The goal is to improve engagement between industry and academia and address industry-driven innovation challenges. The current pilot program supports the energy sector. To date, WCIO has funded seven technology development projects, leveraging $1 million in funding to attract over $5 million in research investments from industry. The seven projects involve partners from 10 universities, one college, three polytechnics, and 12 companies.
In addition to project funding, WCIO supports eight business development professionals who lead WCIO's outreach activities. The BD professionals learn academic capabilities and match them to industry opportunities for collaboration.
An important objective for WCIO is to involve polytechnics in innovative research projects. Polytechnic facilities, used for prototyping and fabrication, are well suited to supporting WCIO projects, and the faculty and students are highly motivated. A student recently said that, as a machinist, being involved in innovation made him feel like a superhero.
At a recent WCIO showcase, I moderated a panel and asked the industry representative how their project would be affected if there were no WCIO. He simply replied that without WCIO, there would be no project. Clearly, incorporating polytechnics into research projects such as WCIO is crucial for the Canadian innovation ecosystem.
WCIO makes no claim on IP ownership, which is instead decided on a case-by-case basis by the collaborators. Such flexibility of IP approaches is a strength of the Canadian system. The degree of control over IP that an institution requires depends on the nature of the work, the scientific field, and how the contract fits with a particular research program. In most cases, IP rights granted to a sponsor are sufficient for commercialization without inhibiting the future project of an academic research program.
IP policies in general reflect the nature of research at an institution, the campus culture, and the infrastructure available to mobilize commercialization. Institutions with medical schools can often invest years of patent and clinical development into a therapeutic agent or medical device and may be better served by an institution-owned IP policy. Conversely, institutions without significant medical research are in a far better position to embrace a creator-owned IP policy, where speed to market drives innovation for fields such as IT and software innovations.
It's important to recognize that intellectual property extends beyond patents and includes copyrights and trademarks that provide opportunities for knowledge mobilization beyond the STEM fields. The Canadian profession, through organizations such as Research Impact Canada, has made great strides towards disseminating innovations from non-STEM faculties, including the social and clinical sciences, education, architecture, and the humanities. Such faculty members are often unaware of the value of their innovations and of the possibility of disseminating knowledge through non-academic channels.
Innovate Calgary hosts events to showcase their work, creating an open forum for dialogue among faculty members. Most recently, an event held in partnership with the Werklund School of Education attracted over 60 researchers, and attendees extended the conversation to nearly five hours. Researchers presented innovations from a variety of disciplines, including psychology, business, kinesiology, social work, women's studies, and education. One researcher expressed that he was starting to understand that commercialization wasn't all about the money, that it was also about scaling impact.
Thank you for inviting me here today, and I look forward to our discussion.