Patents are the lifeblood of a modern economy, but Canada is an innovation weakling, with a record of new inventions that falls far short of the money we put into research and development. And what we do create too often leaves our borders – witness bankrupt Nortel, and the loss of its accumulated intellectual might at auction.
Shutting our market to foreign buyers is not the answer. Rather, Canadian businesses, universities and governments need to bring their organizations and financial resources together to fight back.
That means creating investment funds that can pool and manage nationally vital patents in areas such as software and biotechnology. It requires governments to wield a stick. Patent development is the ultimate form of economic development, so transfers to businesses (especially in resource sectors) and research grants to universities (especially in the applied sciences) that don't include a path to invention or commercialization may need to be scaled back. With American universities earning three times more in return off their R&D than their Canadian counterparts, it's clear than Canadian taxpayers are getting shortchanged.
If Canada's natural resources were physically shipped out of the country with little compensation, there'd be a national uproar. It's happening with our intellectual resources daily. And so it's time to arm up, and it's not a job for government alone.