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Canada gets 'D' in innovation Add to ...

If Canada were a student, it would need some serious remedial help. The country has earned another "D" in innovation from the Conference Board of Canada, which places it a dismal 14th among 17 peer countries in a report to be released today.

In a new indicator added to this year's rankings - the number of international trademarks filed per million population - Canada ranks second to last. Ten peer countries had at least twice Canada's share of trademarks by population.

"We're missing the boat," said Gilles Rhéaume, vice-president of public policy, in an interview. "If we do not improve our performance, we risk of falling further behind the U.S., Europe - and China, which is a huge force to be reckoned with."

Of the 12 indicators used to measure innovation performance, Canada gets nine Ds, two Cs and one B - the latter based on the number of scientific articles published per one million population.

It needn't fare so poorly, Mr. Rhéaume said. "Canada is well-supplied with educational institutions and carries out scientific research that is well-respected around the world," he said. "But, with a few exceptions, Canada does not successfully commercialize its scientific and technological discoveries into world-leading products and services. Canadian companies are rarely at the leading edge of new technology and find themselves a step behind the leaders."

The consequences of this are sobering: the Canadian economy will remain vulnerable to cyclical downturns in commodity prices (forestry is one current example); firms and people will move to more dynamic regions; and wealth generation is dampened, he added.

Canada's position as a D student hasn't budged since the 1980s. It's not through lack of trying. "It's not that we haven't done anything to try and improve ... but it's all relative. Other countries have done much better" at developing clear national strategies and implementing them.

In some areas, Canada is rapidly losing ground. Canadian firms were seen as early leaders in biotechnology in previous years, but the country has since fallen behind the pack, the report said.

The reasons stem from complex and time-consuming regulatory processes, slow technology adoption rates, and increasing tendencies for Canadian companies to ignore domestic markets for their new products, it said.

The Ottawa-based Conference Board isn't the only one fretting about Canada's dearth of innovation. Many economists view it as a key impediment to productivity improvements.

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