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Research exec responds to criticism of Canada’s industry partnerships


By David Schwartz
Published: June 12th, 2018

After an investigative report in the Globe and Mail raised concerns and criticism over Canada’s IP practices in industry research deals with China’s Huawei and other tech firms – charging universities with “selling out” to foreign entities that pose national security as well as economic threats — University of Toronto VP for research and innovation Vivek Goel fired back.

In an editorial in the Globe and Mail published just days after the initial report (see last week’s item at https://tinyurl.com/y6vrg7sw), Goel defended international partnerships and chided those who attacked those deals as shortsighted and, well, just plain wrong.  

Noting the importance of global connections to world-leading research and critical technological advances, he adds that “unfortunately, there are some people who raise concerns about working with foreign partners. Something has to be done, the argument goes, to stop academics from handing over our national know-how to foreign players with little in return.”

Calling that argument “a seductive narrative” with nationalistic overtones, Goel declared that “a reality check is needed.”

Citing the arduous journey of early-stage research from discovery to marketplace – “the  seemingly vast chasm between ideation and commercialization” – he explains that in order to cross that chasm “universities across Canada have forged successful partnerships with industry that often span decades. Many such industrial partnerships are with global corporations headquartered outside of Canada. Over the past decade, the University of Toronto has entered into partnership with roughly 250 multinationals, including their Canadian-based subsidiaries. We have signed even more partnership agreements with Canadian companies. In these collaborations, we negotiate intellectual property rights that allow us to continue our research and educational work, and benefit from its potential commercialization.”  

Along with economic and social benefits, these partnerships produce important training opportunities for students that critics “tend to overlook,” he observes.

Those critics are not looking at the bigger picture, he asserts.

“We structure our industry partnerships so they enrich the training and experiential education of our students, provide access to data, equipment and resources that augment our research programs, and provide a direct mechanism for our early stage discoveries to be moved into market with a range of benefits for society. Our students gain the kind of experience and knowledge this country needs to build a globally competitive work force. Some go on to create their own ventures, often with the help of campus-based supports. It is through building ecosystems that include a critical mass of such highly skilled personnel that we will ultimately be able to create global companies of our own. But without partnerships with existing global companies, we will continue to fall behind as a nation,” he writes.

Goel also points out that, if they had a choice, his university would prefer working with Canadian companies. “But the sad fact is that there are few sizable Canadian firms with the risk tolerance, deep pockets, patience and corporate culture required to partner on research.”

The alternative, he says, will not please anyone. “In the end, building walls around our research won’t lead to made-in-Canada innovation. Such a move would leave publicly funded research not in the hands of Canadian companies, but sitting on the shelf,” Goel states.

National security is a valid concern that must be considered and dealt with, but not by ditching partnerships. “Far from selling out, collaborating with foreign partners, guided by appropriate oversight, helps ensure that society benefits from academic research and that this work is translated into valuable commercial activity. This will help Canada to build its influence and connections and enlarge its role as a significant global player,” he concludes.

Source: The Globe and Mail

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