Good morning, Mr. Chair, vice-chairs and distinguished committee members.
I want to thank you all for inviting me here today. Like Bert, I'm also someone who's very interested in this topic, so it's great to have an opportunity to discuss it more fully. It's certainly a very welcome mandate: identifying best practices for sharing and commercializing the amazing research that's being done in post-secondary institutions across Canada. It has real value, not only for scholars and entrepreneurs, but for all Canadians.
One of the things I want to explain, however, is that I'm not here principally as president of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, or SSHRC, as we like to call it.
The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) has certainly funded research in intellectual property. Some studies we have funded include one examining the future of the Copyright Act in Canada and reconciling creator and user rights.
In fact, we have long lists of these, which I've shared with some of you, and which speak directly to some of the work that you're doing in terms of evaluation, analysis, policy, and so forth. We're more than happy to put you in touch with that research and those researchers.
SSHRC, however, unlike NSERC, is less involved in intellectual property questions or policy per se. In other words, we don't provide direction to university and college researchers with respect to ownership of IP coming from projects funded through SSHRC. Rather, we defer to the policy of post-secondary institutions. I'm not saying that's the way it necessarily should be or has to be, but that's become our policy to date.
Today, I would like to comment instead on intellectual property challenges, particularly in the university sector, based upon my experience as a former vice-president of research at Western University, in London, Ontario.
You heard from George Dixon, who is the vice-president of research at the University of Waterloo. Well, I was George's counterpart at the other “W” university down the road, and we worked together very effectively.
There is currently much discussion in the university community about intellectual property ownership—specifically, university versus individual researcher models.
We talk, and you have probably talked at some length, about investigator-owned versus university-owned IP policy. In fact, as you may know already or should know, most universities have investigator-owned policies whereby the actual investigator-researcher owns the IP that's produced from the work, regardless of who pays for it. There are some university-owned policies. It's a great source of debate, and it's something that needs to be discussed. In my view, the real issue isn't so much who owns the IP—because it ends up going somewhere and is typically licensed—but rather how post-secondary institutions facilitate or assist the commercialization of IP in terms of freedom to operate on the one hand, incentives or disincentives, and how that all plays out.
Currently, we know that the outcome, if you look at traditional tech-transfer models, is pretty limited. Royalty returns, for example, from investments in intellectual property are roughly equal to the amounts that get invested in the development of IP for dissemination or transfer.
It's not about the scope or scale of invention or patenting either, because, to some extent, universities, in my view, are sitting on a considerable volume of patents, hundreds and thousands of patents. The fact is that they're not necessarily moving, and the question is why?
In my position, it may not even be about IP policy or the legal framework of it. The real issue in the academic community, as I said, is how to move IP to market to get knowledge moving and, importantly, to de-risk the process for all the partners.
The old ways are not working; we need to look at new tools. To successfully commercialize university research, we need better collaboration between business and academics.
Certainly we need to build up demand in the private sector for the supply of the knowledge that our scholars can produce, while at the same time ensuring that the integrity of the research project remains intact in the transfer process.
How can we do that? Certainly things like contract agreement templates can be used universally. Right now we use a very broad patchwork of tools. Umbrella agreements among industry, universities, researchers, and information exchange work very well. We used these to great effect when I was at Western. These are all ways to standardize and to facilitate knowledge transfer in a broader range of ways.
There is also the bundling of technologies and the development of regional academic industry consortia. You may have heard about the Western Canadian Innovation Offices, and about CRIAQ, the aerospace consortium in Quebec. These are all ways to promote or attract industry engagement and break down barriers to commercialization.
Such strategies help to reduce the institutional impulse to competitiveness and replace it with efforts to collaborate. But collaboration needs to somehow be rewarded.
One of the suggestions that I heard about in terms of IP and technology transfer was quite interesting. Instead of universities chasing dollars through royalty agreements and so forth, we as a society, a province, or a country, should just finance the development of the IP and the transfer of the IP itself. If universities are earning only about $60 million a year or so from royalties, why don't we invest twice that and just instruct the universities to push it out? Take the money, go for it, and move it, instead of spending all the time and all the effort that we spend to develop and license all the agreements.
I've left some material with you. There can be a case for a completely open approach, open innovation, which frees research from the traditional closed and rigid proprietary licensing models.
Despite what has been said, this isn't simply about universities or investigators giving away IP. It's about inviting companies and other third parties into the early-stage discovery process from the outset, often for a fee or through cash for access, and then allowing them to protect and utilize IP at the stage that's useful for them.
This keeps early-stage research, from our public universities financed typically with public money, open to everybody, as a platform on which to build, while at the same time giving third party research partners the option to protect and to develop that IP which they are in a position to exploit.
It has been argued, for example, that a model like that could save years off the development of pharma products, since early stage research in a more protected environment is essentially lost to all but the sponsor of the research.
In fact, the research I've seen, colleagues, such as that of Aled Edwards at the University of Toronto, has shown that the time to development of pharmaceutical projects in an open innovation environment can be reduced by potentially tens of years.
These methods are currently in place within Toronto's Structural Genomics Consortium, and the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital. This approach may not work in all fields, especially where time to market is very short.
It may not work for software development in which things move very quickly. It can certainly work in the case of drug development.
In concluding my remarks I'd like to state the obvious. In essence, research collecting dust on a shelf has no value, and there is a considerable amount of this. Goods and services that don't connect with people or reflect consumer preferences are also equally doomed to fail. I think both academics and entrepreneurs often lose sight of this fact. To achieve the economic growth that Canada needs in this increasingly globalized trade environment, we need to get ideas to market quickly. By assessing our collaborative capabilities as this committee is currently doing, we can hopefully establish a default model that eliminates some of the obstacles to this commercialization and increases the efficiency of knowledge transfer to the benefit of all Canadians.
I welcome any questions the committee may have.