Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](,dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Karima Bawa is an expert on the commercialization of university research and development. Myra Tawfik is a professor of law and distinguished university professor at the University of Windsor. Both are senior fellows with the Centre for International Governance Innovation and are the co-authors of The Intellectual Property Guide.

COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on our communities and the global economy for most of 2020. What has kept us all going is the possibility of a vaccine. The initial vaccine timeline of 24 to 36 months was highly accelerated – but even this optimistic timeline was surpassed with the recent release of the first vaccines, offering hope that our lives may once again see some semblance of normalcy before the end of 2021.

These sped-up timelines are attributable to different factors, but one of the most significant ones is the degree of global collaboration among various stakeholders, including academia and industry. In fact, one of the more promising vaccines is the product of public-private collaboration.

Story continues below advertisement

While this form of collaboration between public and private interests is common, it has been met with some criticism in Canada on the basis that Canadian universities give away their research and their intellectual property (IP) rights to private industry with little or no return for the tax dollars that are spent for this research.

It does not have to be this way. We have seen some research organizations engaging in sophisticated arrangements with private sector partners that enable them to address the global health crisis in a way that aligns with their values as public institutions. For example, the University of Oxford, in partnership with AstraZeneca PLC, is offering the patented COVID-19 vaccine under a royalty-free license during the pandemic, while retaining its discretion to pursue commercial opportunities once the pandemic is over. This approach ensures that the public good is served at a time of greatest need, but that there is also flexibility for the university to derive some post-pandemic returns when the time is right and under conditions consistent with its nature as a public sector institution.

Canadian universities and research institutes, especially those with significant bargaining power, should consider similarly nuanced approaches to the agreements that they strike with industry. Creative public-private arrangements around IP generation, ownership and licensing can help ensure that some commercial benefits return to Canadians. Even where they have limited bargaining power to retain IP ownership, Canadian public sector actors should attempt to negotiate IP agreements with foreign industry partners that provide some measure of commercial manoeuvrability, such as the freedom for Canadian small and medium enterprises (SMEs) to use the IP without being sued, in addition to royalties.

For its part, Canadian industry needs to more actively engage with universities. According to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, while 59 per cent of SMEs are at least slightly aware of patents, only 2 per cent hold one or more patent. As noted by the Ontario government, that percentage needs to grow dramatically for Canada’s productivity and prosperity to increase in the intangibles-driven economy. Canadian business expenditure on research and development is very low, but the research and IP emanating from the postsecondary sector can be a cost-effective way for companies to obtain new technologies and advancements that are not being developed in-house. Unfortunately, smaller Canadian companies are often excluded from accessing university IP because they are shut out by larger players (often foreign entities) with deeper pockets.

This is why various levels of government are initiating measures to encourage greater IP collaboration between Canadian businesses and academia. These include mechanisms for the collective sharing of the financial and other burdens associated with IP commercialization. For instance, the federal government’s Patent Collective pilot program offers Canadian data-driven, cleantech companies access to a patent pool to spread the costs and risks of IP management among multiple IP rights holders. Universities and other research institutions operating in the cleantech space could also participate in the pool and benefit from a suite of IP strategic services.

Similarly, the Digital Technology Supercluster helps Canadian companies leverage university-owned IP for commercial benefit. Significantly, the involvement of a third party such as the Supercluster ensures that the terms of the agreements between industry and academia are fair and balanced and that the deliverables from the funded projects are available to others in the Canadian innovation ecosystem.

At the provincial level, Ontario’s IP Action Plan provides another example of a collaborative and collective policy approach to IP generation and commercialization of public sector research to help support Canadian SMEs.

Story continues below advertisement

These initiatives are important for advancing stronger commercialization outcomes. They will provide the expertise necessary to ensure that IP ownership agreements between universities and private sector interests are fair, and that incentives are in place to support greater uptake by Canadian SMEs in research partnerships with universities.

However, more policy levers may need to be considered.

There are serious economic consequences to allowing IP to leave the country, but other national interests are at play as well. For example, national security concerns have been raised in relation to agreements between Canadian universities and Chinese tech company Huawei, but little has been done to address them. It is crucial that policy makers remain pro-active in considering all the implications associated with the commercialization of publicly funded R&D and IP. They need to be vigilant in ensuring that the IP generated through public-private arrangements is strategically managed in ways that benefit Canadians.

Your time is valuable. Have the Top Business Headlines newsletter conveniently delivered to your inbox in the morning or evening. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies