Ottawa defends innovation performance and initiatives to strengthen ecosystem

Mark Lowey
December 9, 2020

Research Money asked Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to respond to criticisms about the federal approach to R&D and innovation. Hans Parmar, media relations officer, provided detailed responses on behalf of ISED. They have been edited for length.

Q:   Why is Canada ranked so low (22nd, behind Slovenia), in the 2020 Bloomberg Innovation Index?

A:   It is important to recognize that building an innovation ecosystem is a long-term process. While the Government of Canada has made significant investments in its innovation system through the Innovation and Skills Plan since 2017, Canada is only now beginning to see the full results of this labour.

For instance, patent applications can take three years or more before they are granted. With this in mind, Innovative Solutions Canada is graduating more and more participants into its Phase 2 [potential government procurement of prototypes], the Innovation Superclusters Initiative is accelerating its funding across the country for industry-led projects, and the Strategic Innovation Fund is now seeing late-stage innovators scale up and invest in Canada.

Q:  What progress is the government making on implementing its national IP and data strategies and recommendations from the Economic Strategy Tables?

A:  In June 19, 2018, the government launched the National Digital and Data Consultations, part of the government’s commitment to continuing to make Canada a nation of innovators. This important work led to the creation of Canada’s Digital Charter in Action: A Plan by Canadians, for Canadians.

In response to the Digital Charter, in November 2020, the government proposed the Digital Charter Implementation Act, 2020, to modernize the framework for the protection of personal information in the private sector.

In 2018, the government created Canada’s first-ever National IP Strategy, helping Canadians understand the value of their IP and giving them tools to leverage this important asset. The Strategy aims to strengthen IP elements in Canada’s innovation ecosystem and to increase firms’ ability to use that system to their best advantage. The initiatives fall into three different overarching categories:

  • Legislative changes to clarify acceptable practice and prevent bad behavior, primarily reforms to the Patent Act, Copyright Act, and Trademarks Act;
  • Initiatives focusing on IP awareness, education, and advice, to address the lack of IP literacy; and,
  • Initiatives providing strategic IP tools for growth to reduce the costs and complexity of IP.

Initiatives that have been introduced include:

  • ExploreIP, Canada’s online, searchable IP marketplace;
  • The Innovation Asset Collective, a non-profit organization, has been selected to receive funding through the Patent Collective Pilot Program, to support SMEs in the data-driven, clean tech sector with their IP needs.
  • The Intellectual Property Legal Clinics Program is a grant program intended to encourage the establishment or enhancement of IP legal clinics within Canadian law schools.
  • The College of Patent Agents and Trademark Agents was established as an independent regulator to oversee the patent agent and trademark agent profession.
  • The Indigenous IP Program grants support the participation of Indigenous peoples from Canada in domestic and international discussions about the IP system and the protection of Indigenous knowledge and cultural expressions.

Q:  Jim Balsillie, chair of the Council of Canadian Innovators, said: “To date, there’s still not one innovation expert in the Prime Minister’s Office and [the government’s approach to innovation] is highly fragmented, highly siloed and very technical.” What’s your response?

A: The government takes evidence-based decision making very seriously, but recognizes the need to rely on a variety of advice, depending on the issue.

This is why the government re-established a Chief Science Advisor, who provides scientific analysis on technical issues, and [why the government] relies on subject-matter experts to shape different aspects of our innovation system.

The Advisory Council on Economic Growth, as well as 10 innovation leaders, helped shape the initial stage of the Innovation and Skills Plan. Another set of experts led the Fundamental Science Review, which informed our new vision for science and research.

The seven industry-led, sector-specific Economic Strategy Tables are a new model for collaboration between industry and government, and aspects of their recommendations have already been adopted into policy.

Six specialized innovation leaders led the national engagement to inform Canada’s Digital Charter. And for the COVID-19 recovery efforts, the Industry Strategy Council has provided advice on the government’s response.

Q:  Canada spends less on R&D per GDP than the average OECD country and, unlike other countries, has no national R&D or innovation targets or specific industrial-sector innovation targets. What has the government done to address these issues?

 A:  The Innovation and Skills Plan is a major redesign of the innovation policy landscape in Canada. It has put in place a suite of initiatives that will help to drive R&D investment, through concerted support along the innovation continuum.

In response to the Fundamental Science Review, the government has made historic investments in fundamental research, science and infrastructure that will underpin innovation, competitiveness, and economic growth for years to come. What’s more, it has increased the amount of direct support the government offers to firms of all sizes through four flagship programs that work together as firms grow: National Research Council-Industrial Research Assistance Program; Regional Development Agencies; Strategic Innovation Fund; and Trade Commissioner Service. [These programs] have been integral in combatting COVID-19 so far, and will continue to drive our economic recovery moving forward.

QSeveral critics argue that the federal government should be investing much more in helping companies scale up, and invest less in startups. Also, that the government’s procurement program needs to step up in buying products and services from these scaling companies. What’s your response?

A:  The Innovation and Skills Plan has significantly increased government support for scaling-up companies. We have streamlined support with four flagship programs for each stage of growth:

  • National Research Council-Industrial Research Assistance Program targets applied research and commercialization.
  • Regional Development Agencies target scale-up and export, including a suite of programs to help firms adopt technologies, grow, and enter new markets.
  • Strategic Innovation Fund targets large-scale, later-stage funding. It supports large-scale projects that can lead to significant job creation, including R&D, technology transfer and commercialization, growth and firm expansion, attraction of large-scale foreign investment, and creation of new partnerships between researchers and industry.
  • Trade Commissioner Service targets international market linkages.

Prior to the Innovation and Skills Plan, more than two-thirds of direct support for late-stage firms was delivered through ISED programs and exclusively targeted the aerospace, defence and automotive sectors. The Strategic Innovation Fund consolidated these previous sector-specific funds, taking a new approach to spurring innovation through supporting all sectors. It focuses on big projects worth over $10 million.

These programs are complemented by the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Export Development Canada. BDC’s financing and advisory services help innovators transform their ideas into successful companies, and existing high-growth firms to reach new heights.

The Innovation Canada portal facilitates access to all of this support by providing a tailored list of business innovation programs at the federal, provincial, and territorial levels. High-growth firms have access to the Accelerated Growth Service, where they receive a dedicated advisor and a customized plan of potential government programs and services such as financing, exporting, innovation, and business advice.

To better use procurement, the government has created Innovative Solutions Canada. Modelled on the U.S.’s Small Business Innovation Research program, it positions the federal government as a first customer, by issuing specific challenges and looking for proposed solutions. It has 20 federal departments and agencies participating, who may opt to procure solutions developed through the program.


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