Friday, December 05, 2008

Article: Canadian Federal Support for University Research Commercialization

Rasmussen[1] does a thorough examination of Canadian federal government programs and organizations supporting the commercialization of university research. This work is based on background research and interviews in January 2006 with 28 "...policy makers, program managers, policy researchers, university administrators, and program users..", including "A case description was written based on the collected material and later verified by several key people at Canadian agencies".

For those following federal university commercialization activities, this work is an excellent review of the recent state of these programs, activities and organizations.

It should be noted that this research is part of a larger and broader research effort[2] benchmarking commercialization of research in Canada, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Scotland, and Sweden. The list of the Canadian interviewees can be found in this larger work (p.52).


"Compared to most countries, Canada has a long tradition of state involvement to promote the economic utilization of scientific research (Atkinson-Grosjean et al., 2001; Slaughter and Leslie, 1997). Moreover, Canada has an overwhelming number of programs at federal and provincial level that may be used to support the commercialization of research. Although using a very broad definition, one survey identified 178 initiatives that represented an expenditure of Canadian dollar (CAD) 3.2 billion a year (Gault and McDaniel, 2004)."

Efficiency of university commercialization:

"Clayman (2004) found that Canadian universities created considerably more spin-off companies than their US counterparts, counting the companies created per dollar of research."

R&D Expenditure: Private/public:

"Canada has a relatively modest level of R&D expenditure due to low investments in the private sector. Public R&D expenditure is, however, among the highest in the world. About one-third of all R&D activity is performed by Canada's close to 100 universities and university colleges (most by the top 20), roughly 12% by government institutes, and just above half by Canadian industry."

Diversity of IP Policy at Canadian universities:

"It is also important to note that Canadian universities have a diversity of approaches to IP ownership, IP strategies, and the organization of their technology transfer activities. For instance, in the city of Vancouver the University of British Columbia owns the IP, while at Simon Fraser University the IP is owned by the inventors. Among the 20 largest universities, the IP is owned by the creator (academics) in eight cases, in another eight cases the IP is university owned, and the remaining four have joint ownership or case-by-case negotiations."

Three Categories of Commercialization Initiatives:

"Federal level initiatives to support the commercialization of Canadian research could be divided into three agency areas. First, the federal research institutes such as NRC make their own internal priorities in supporting commercialization. Second, there are a number of targeted schemes from CIHR, NSERC, and SSHRC towards commercialization at universities. Third, general agencies such as the Industrial Research Assistance Program (NRC-IRAP) and the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) give considerable support to research-based spin-off firms. For instance, about half the Canadian university spin-offs have received IRAP funds, and 23 of 35 investments by BDC's Technology Seed Investments involved spin-offs from universities or federal labs according to officials in these organizations."

Approach: bottom-up

"Although all the initiatives investigated in this study are operated by government agencies, they seem to emphasize a bottom-up approach (Goldfarb and Henrekson, 2002). That is, to be flexible according to local needs and support with funding, expertise development, experimenting, and networks, in contrast to a top-down approach imposing a general set of policies and structures for the commercialization of research. As argued by Goldfarb and Henrekson, 2002, a bottom-up approach is a key explanation for the success at US universities in promoting commercialization of research, in contrast to the limited success of the top-down approach in Sweden."

Metrics: People and cooperation would be better?

"A final observation related to the commercialization of university research is that the use of quantitative measures (number of patents, licenses, spin-off firms, revenue generated, etc.) to measure the outcome of technology transfer activity is increasingly critiqued in Canada (Langford et al., 2006). It is recognized that the major channels for technology transfer are the transfer of people, especially graduated students, and research cooperation with existing industry, including faculty consulting. Hence, licensing and spin-offs account for only a small share of technology transfer from research institutions and their impact might be difficult to separate from the other technology transfer activity (Landry et al., 2007). Several Canadian officials expressed concern that a too narrow focus on short-term indicators could be misinterpreted and do more harm than good in order to achieve the potential for social and economic benefits from research."

Programs/Organizations/Activities examined in some detail in this article:

[1]Einar Rasmussen. 2008. Government instruments to support the commercialization of university research: Lessons from Canada. Technovation 28:8:506-517.

[2]Einar Rasmussen, Odd Jarl Borch, Roger Sørheim, Are Gjellan. 2006. Government initiatives to support the commercialization of research - an international benchmarking study.

Dislaimer/disclosure: I am employed by the National Research Council, some of whose activities are described in the above articles. This is a personal blog whose content is my own opinion and does not reflect the policies, views or opinions of the NRC or the Government of Canada.

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