uOttawa dangles free IP

Brzustowski%2C%20Tom2-158X189.jpg"Get the IP into the hands of those in the Canadian economy who can create wealth."
By Susan Hickman

Intellectual property for free ─ or at least without royalties attached ─ is on the table at the University of Ottawa. A Technology Accelerator Program (TAP) funded by the university, the first of its kind in the country, will provide IP to small companies in Ottawa on a three-year royalty-free basis. Small grants will be provided to researchers responsible for the IP within the faculty of engineering. Licencing will be re-evaluated if the IP is commercialized successfully.
“Small technology ventures are short of cash and time,” explains Tom Brzustowski (left), Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) Financial Group Professor in the Commercialization of Innovation at the university’s Telfer School, “and they are facing rapid market changes. Get the IP into the hands of those in the Canadian economy who can create wealth.”
Since joining uO two years ago, Brzustowski has been examining the possibilities of homegrown entrepreneurs finding new ways to create wealth for Canada. He believes TAP will be able to determine if there is a better way to get IP into the hands of those who can create wealth with it.

All companies in Canada struggle with non-standardized negotiation procedures when it comes to IP policies at universities. Smaller firms often lack resources and/or personnel to deal with the complex issue of IP, which can involve more than one institution or be held by researchers who want more return than companies can afford or are willing to offer.

Brzustowski, former president of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), conceived and proposed TAP. He is vacationing and was unavailable for comment, but an article in Re$earch Money (July 23) notes he anticipates that UofO’s president, Gilles Patry, will expand the program if it is successful. “A lot of people are watching this with interest.”

In an earlier interview for the university magazine Research Perspectives, Brzustowski admitted research must be excellent if it is to stand up to scrutiny in the marketplace.

“I don’t believe excellent research becomes influential spontaneously,” he said. “You have to develop channels of influence, you have to go and talk about it to people who might never read the journal papers, you might have to give personal briefings to particularly influential individuals, run experiments and pilot projects, and so on. And all that takes effort and time.”

The UofO and the Ontario Research Commercialization Program (launched by Premier Dalton McGuinty two years ago to help business innovators take their products to market) are providing a half million dollars to researchers in lieu of royalties.

Joe Irvine, the university’s director of tech transfer, believes the new program will be able to push new and more technologies into the small and medium-sized market, but anticipates limited resources will result in a fairly small number of transactions per year.

Irvine says the most successful technology transfers come out of contract research within the university.
“About half the tech transfer offices in Canada are like this,” he says. His office will renegotiate royalty rates for future sales by companies if the IP results in a successful product within three years.

The Re$earch Money article notes that Canadian universities spent $36 million in 2003 for a $50 million return in IP income. Brzustowski suggests this meagre return justifies the TAP idea, whose objective is to transfer technology into the marketplace to create wealth through company growth and more jobs.

Angus Livingstone, managing director of UBC’s industry liaison office, has doubts about the new program. “It’s a great idea and a great experiment,” he told Re$earch Money, “but it may produce as many challenges as benefits. Engineering may not have local expertise in the Ottawa area and if a Toronto company wants exclusive rights, what do you do?”

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