Recently, The Globe and Mail reported on a list of the world’s top researchers compiled by Thomson Reuters, a provider of solutions to the Canadian legal marketplace. The list, found at highlycited.com, ranks scientists on the impact of their research based on how many times their papers have been cited by others. While there has been criticism of how the list is compiled, it does provide some insight as to the quality of the research we conduct here in Canada. As noted in the Globe article, Canada has 91 names on the list, which amounts to 2.8 percent of the overall list of 3,200 researchers. With about half a percent of the world’s population, the scientific community in Canada would appear to be engaged in important research that is recognized throughout the world. Having spent a few years in a graduate research laboratory, I saw first-hand the quality of the research that we conduct here in Canada.
In contrast to the impact that the Canadian research has in academia we are, unfortunately, falling behind in protecting and capitalizing on innovations that flow from that research. In another report by Thomson Reuters, an analysis of data gleaned from the Canadian Patents Database of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office shows a significant decrease in the number of patent applications (having Canadian priority) that have been filed over the past decade. The same report indicates that citation impact has significantly improved over the same time period. Accordingly, while the research that is conducted in Canada is very good and getting better, there is much room for improvement when it comes to protecting our innovations. There is no reason why Canada could not become an innovation powerhouse, able to compete with any country in any scientific discipline. However, to be competitive, we must foster a culture of entrepreneurship and risk-taking to move this research out of the laboratory and into the hands of consumers. There are, of course, no easy answers on how to improve innovation in Canada.
From anecdotal experience, educating our scientists, whether in academia or industry, in basic concepts of intellectual property and entrepreneurship would create a foundation for moving a discovery from the lab into a commercial setting. Numerous times each year I am confronted with the situation in which an inventor has disclosed their discovery before filing a patent application. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that scientists are not lawyers; when I worked in my graduate lab, I had never even seen a patent and so had no idea what an invention was nor that it shouldn’t be disclosed. However, educating our researchers, for example, so that they know not to disclose important discoveries before a decision is made to protect them, would help foster a culture of innovation.
The Canadian Patents Database also reports that only a small percentage of companies in Canada have an intellectual property strategy. This would indicate that businesses in Canada are not capturing the intellectual property they are generating and are simply letting it slip through their fingers. Again, educating our researchers and incentivizing them to come forward with their discoveries would go a long way to fostering a culture of innovation in Canada.
Clearly, Canada already has the scientific research infrastructure in place to generate world-class discoveries and inventions. Scientists across this land are doing it every day. To compete in the 21st century, however, we need to get serious about profiting from such research.