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Feridun Hamdullahpur is president and vice-chancellor at the University of Waterloo.

Since the World Economic Forum defined the Fourth Industrial Revolution in 2016, the worlds of academia, technology, finance and policy-making have been flooded with talk about exciting things seemingly from science-fiction. Nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, self-driving cars and robots.

However, yesterday’s science fiction is becoming today’s reality. Our economy is increasingly being driven by ideas and intellectual property that are allowing us to create financial and social wealth, while also attempting to make the world a better place.

In this period of political populism and growing economic nationalism, there is a stream of thought supported by some in Canada that intellectual property is a commodity that should be preserved and contained within our borders.

There appears to be no shortage of pundits on the topic. Many of them will tell you that filing patents and protecting IP are the keys to ensuring Canada is among those to emerge as significant players in the new knowledge economy.

As the head of the University of Waterloo, I know as well as anyone the value of generating IP and retaining it. Creating a robust patent and IP ecosystem held by Canadians in Canadian companies will undoubtedly make our economy stronger in the long run.

But patent-filing in and of itself does not inspire innovation and the creation of billion-dollar companies.

What matters is not simply the creation of intellectual property, but what you actually do with it. IP that is protected and sits on a shelf adds little-to-no value to Canada’s economy. Ideas and technology should be utilized in a purposeful and direct manner.

For those involved in research, innovation, invention and entrepreneurship, we know the reality of generating jobs and profit from IP is more complicated than merely putting up national walls. It requires taking steps to ensure that Canada benefits, which will involve a combination of approaches, some of which transcend nationalism and the fear of international collaboration.

In the quest to innovate and to compete, we need to protect and commercialize intellectual property and support Canadians who are trying to build companies. We also need to support those who choose to give up a portion of their IP to partner with entities that are better positioned to bring those ideas to market, regardless of the flag that flies over that company’s headquarters.

Based on our experience, both approaches can yield tremendous benefits and lead to investment in Canada and Canadians. More importantly, here at Waterloo, we have seen this create demand for the talent we produce. We have also witnessed the creation of new wealth that is often reinvested into our economy.

By deliberately instilling the values of risk-taking and entrepreneurship in our students and faculty, we have seen one of Canada’s top technology ecosystems grow up around us.

We have seen the creation of billion-dollar companies, the attraction of global giants to our region and the development of an environment that boasts the highest per-capita rate of startups outside Silicon Valley.

These prizes of the new economy did not come by focusing solely on IP protection. Instead, they come from a focus on implementing ideas that we create and the hybrid approach that has seen companies, as well as domestic and foreign partnerships, advance Waterloo’s ideas into profit-making ventures that continue to add to the financial and human capital of our region. Global relevance means accessing global talent, global ideas and global markets.

Many of these companies have benefited from the university’s Velocity program, one of the most productive incubators in the world, whose companies have managed to raise over $800-million and create thousands of jobs. Others have received a boost from the guidance offered by local organizations, such as Communitech, or by investments by our local, provincial and federal governments.

What all of these efforts have in common is the drive to achieve and accomplish by developing and pursuing ideas without being hemmed-in by political discourse or a single view of what a Canadian success story should look like.

It has been a ground-up effort that started with creator-owned IP, a drive to attract and support talent wherever we may find it and the ability to work with partners both in Canada and across the globe.

Looking at this culture, it is not surprising the Waterloo region continues to attract companies, talent and capital to our community, and has emerged as a leading technology hub. We’ve done it because we focus on what works.

We believe it’s a model worth emulating.

If we as Canadians choose to focus on what we should have done or why our entrepreneurs chose Option A over Option B, we risk missing the opportunity to build upon the areas where we have been successful.

In our experience, economic success is not solely measured by the number of patents you file, it’s measured by the number of careers and businesses you help create.

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