Thank you very much.
Thanks for the invitation to testify.
I've been going through the transcripts of recent witnesses to this committee, and I was struck by comments by Dr. McDonald, on June 1 of this year, about the development of an emergency ventilator by an international team of scientists and engineers.
My goal today is to highlight those kinds of efforts and tell you a little bit more about research that's ongoing, not just by research scientists and Nobel Prize winners, but also by groups including front-line doctors, local hobbyists, students and even indigenous groups like the Nishnawbe Aski Nation in northern Ontario, who have been leveraging local know-how, digital fabrication and new technologies to produce local solutions to COVID.
In the last few months, millions of face shields have been printed and laser-cut. There are hundreds of different, but often related, ventilator projects, alternative face masks and respiratory technologies, a real groundswell of activity centred on protecting and serving the needs of front-line health care workers and COVID patients.
You probably have heard these sorts of feel-good stories in the media, and they really do highlight the resiliency and capacity of Canadians. But I think they're more than that. They also signal new capacities for innovation and technology development that sit outside the typical mechanisms and provide key capabilities to quickly problem-solve and respond when industrial systems and infrastructures break down as we recently experienced.
I'll give you a little background on me. I'm a professor at U of T, and when COVID hit, I turned my attention to seeing what we might do about it. I got a little bit of money from the University of Toronto to set up what we ended up calling the Toronto emergency device accelerator and brought together a group of faculty, students and staff to work on critical issues.
Since then, we've produced about 10,000 face shields and distributed them to hospitals and long-term care facilities, supported the development of a number of hospital-centred projects and provided essential equipment to assist in the development of a Canadian N95 mask test facility run out of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
But really what we did is we supported what has been called community-based innovations focused on supporting communities in need. For example, the face shield project that we built was really part of an open innovation process through which we built on the solutions of others and provided our own solution to others as well using open licensing to support widespread dissemination and quick improvements rather than using patents or other IP mechanisms.
We could, of course, do this because we were leveraging the public infrastructure of the university and funding from this institution with the goal of having a direct and immediate impact rather than generating a financial outcome.
These shields and all the others created by all the other groups served a very important role in the initial months of the crisis, providing safety and protection until the regular private enterprise solutions could spool up. Now that they have, the face shields that we made are not really competitive, costing more to make and being limited by our use of university infrastructure, which has now been returned back to its main role of research and teaching.
These are a feel-good story, but they serve to illustrate my main take-away. Within the university we typically divide innovation up in the following way: as contributions to human knowledge that we publicly share through academic publishing, and then these other types of contributions that typically require patent protections and are focused on economic value.
But I think there's a third way, which, I believe, the above story highlights. It's about innovations that are generated through deep and continuous collaborations with communities in need, and that require open licensing and ongoing support to have impact. Here, I really want to highlight the role that Canadian universities can play, given their centralization of expertise and knowledge, and their focus on the public good.
I'll just end with a couple of quick recommendations. I want to encourage this committee to keep this kind of innovation in mind as they deliberate on related issues such as the role of the new college of patent agents and trademark agents.
I also want to encourage the continued funding of research grants and other forms of funding that encourage universities and researchers to set up hubs that focus not just on the creation of new private companies, but also on new organizational forms to support innovations of the kinds I described above.
These innovations really helped us solve a problem in this PPE emergency, and I believe these offer us a model for continuing strategic and critical capacity.