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Is Canada facing a climate change brain drain?

by Mark Sabourin
EcoLog, 11/3/2017 1:38:00 PM

A detailed analysis of climate change mitigation technology patents registered by Canadian researchers and businesses suggests there is a climate change brain drain underway. Canadians may be contributing more to global innovation than to innovation at home.

The report, “Patented Inventions in Climate Change Mitigation Technologies”, was conducted by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), which manages intellectual property, including the patent registry, in Canada. CIPO acknowledges that an analysis of patent activity provides only a crude measure of a country’s inventiveness. Many patents are strategic in nature, not all patents lead to commercialization and not all inventions are patented.

Canadian names are often found on the intellectual property of foreign firms, according to the report. A study cited in the CIPO report also suggests that Canadian researchers worldwide are disproportionately involved in highly innovative work. If Canada’s best and brightest climate researchers are being lured away by international firms, Canada may be weakening its ability to benefit from domestically-earned expertise and giving foreign firms an edge against domestic competitors.

That doesn’t surprise Michael Andrews, a leading intellectual property lawyer and senior partner of the firm Andrews Robichaud in Ottawa.

“Canadians are very innovative,” Andrews tells EcoLog News. “Our problem is with respect to commercialization,” and he blames a lack of venture capital. Governments invest heavily in research and development, but pay little heed to the investment environment that’s needed to bring new products to market. If an invention is going to be patented, says Andrews, it will be patented in a marketplace where it is likely to succeed commercially. That’s not Canada.

Meeting the federal government’s carbon targets will require technological breakthroughs, and the CIPO report suggests that Canada is not innovating in those areas where it has a technological advantage.

The CIPO report also finds that Canadian researchers and Canadian businesses are relatively specialized in areas related to hydro-electric energy, the production of non-fossil fuels, nuclear energy and, especially, carbon capture and storage. Surprisingly, though, those are not the areas where researchers and businesses are filing patents. When it comes to patent activity, businesses patent extensively in the transport subgroup, an area where Canada does not have a technological advantage.

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