The Ontario government says it will revise the mandates of provincially funded universities, colleges and startup hubs to put greater focus on bringing innovations to market, as well as develop educational resources for other Ontarians to do the same.
The province plans to change the governance frameworks of Regional Innovation Centres, including startup hubs such as Toronto’s MaRS Discovery District and Waterloo Region’s Communitech, to put a more consistent focus on helping startups commercialize inventions. It also plans to refocus the mandates of university and college technology transfer offices to remove roadblocks that prevent the commercialization of patents and other intellectual property (IP).
Canada does not have a strong reputation for commercializing IP – which can generate significant wealth and subsequent tax revenues – but there has been an increased focus among governments to correct this. On Thursday, the Business Development Bank of Canada said it would commit $160-million in debt and equity funding to startups that generate revenue from patents, a crucial type of IP.
Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has taken up the IP in recent years as an important economic-development issue. ”Too often, the priceless intellectual property developed here in Ontario gets bought up by the big U.S. or international firms,” Premier Doug Ford said at the announcement in Kitchener, Ont., on Friday. “It’s exported to other countries. And we want that intellectual property to stay right here in Ontario.”
A panel of intellectual-property lawyers, professors and experts recommended implementing these changes in a report earlier this year. That same panel will now advise Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade, and Ministry of Colleges and Universities on how to implement the recommendations.
The Globe and Mail first revealed the panel in 2019, when the province tapped Jim Balsillie, the chair of the Council of Canadian Innovators, to chair the group.
Their February report called on provincially funded institutions to prioritize commercializing IP to generate better returns for the province and boost economic development – aligning its goals with the province’s priorities – and for the province to develop a mandatory education program for anyone receiving provincial money for that work.
The panel will also develop a web-based literacy program to help Ontarians better understand the importance of commercializing innovations and give them access to experts.
The original report highlighted a study from the IP-specialist merchant bank Ocean Tomo, which found that intangible assets such as IP have grown from just 17 per cent of the S&P 500 index’s market value in 1975 to more than 80 per cent in 2015.
Members of the Ontario panel include Ottawa patent lawyer Natalie Raffoul; Myra Tawfik, a University of Windsor law professor who focuses on IP commercialization and strategy; Dan Herman, a former head of strategy for Innovation Canada; and Shiri Breznitz, a University of Toronto professor whose 2014 book The Fountain of Knowledge explored the relationships between universities, governments and industries.
Mr. Ford announced the news with Economic Development Minister Vic Fedeli and Colleges and Universities Minister Ross Romano at the Medical Innovation Xchange med-tech hub in Kitchener. They also revealed the province would support additional research through its $20-million Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund, focusing on diagnostics, treatments, vaccine development and social strategies, including senior care.
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