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Electro-Motive's London plant, is being closed by Caterpillar, throwing 460 out of work. (Mark Spowart/The Canadian Press/Mark Spowart/The Canadian Press)
Electro-Motive's London plant, is being closed by Caterpillar, throwing 460 out of work. (Mark Spowart/The Canadian Press/Mark Spowart/The Canadian Press)

Electro-Motive patents overwhelmingly American Add to ...

A Toronto Star editorial from this morning:

“Then we watched Caterpillar Inc., the owner of a productive locomotive firm in London, bust its union (the Canadian Auto Workers), thumb its nose at both the community and the Ontario government, then close the factory, throwing its 460 workers on the scrap heap and walking away with the company’s patents and technology.”

I decided to examine whether there is any truth to this claim, that Canadian patents and technology are making their way south of the border.

Electro-Motive does have a large number of patents in Canada. A quick search of Canadian patents finds 48 separate patents. On the surface, the Star's claim does appear reasonable.

The first patent on the list is for something called a turbocharger rotor. The owner of the patent is listed as “Electro-Motive Diesel Inc. (United States of America)”, the applicant was “General Motors Corp. (United States of America)” which is the original owner of Electro-Motive and the three inventors are listed as: Svihla, Gary R. (United States of America) Duve, Eric J. (United States of America) Carr, John M. (United States of America).

The U.S. patent for the same technology lists the residences of the inventors as: Svihla, Gary R. (Chicago, Ill.), Duve, Eric J. (Riverside, Ill.), Carr, John M. (Chicago, Ill.). The headquarters of Electro-Motive is in La Grange, Ill., a suburb of Chicago. This technology was clearly developed at the La Grange facility by scientists who live in the United States.

Of the 48 Canadian patents, 47 have their inventors listed as being in the United States. Their equivalent U.S. patents have the inventors living in the Chicago area, near the La Grange plant.

One patent does list two of the four inventors as being from Canada. This 1998 patent for Locomotive adhesion-enhancing material mixtures was filed jointly by GM and the National Research Council of Canada. The U.S. patent reveals the two Canadian inventors are from Richmond, B.C., and Vancouver. If they were working in the London facility, they would have an extremely long commute.

There is simply no evidence to suggest that patentable technology was being developed in the London facility. The London plant was a branch plant for a U.S. company; the research and development was being conducted in the head office in the United States.

Mike Moffatt is a chemical industry consultant and a lecturer in the business, economics and public policy group at the Richard Ivey School of Business.

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