"We did an internal review of the innovation infrastructure in place in Ontario and discovered we needed more of the right kinds of money and more of the right kinds of people."
Premier Dalton McGuinty
Launched in June 2005, the Ontario Research Commercialization Program (ORCP) is a key element in the government's strategy to help business innovators take their products to market. ORCP helps Ontario's researchers and entrepreneurs to combine their expertise to help commercialize their innovations and create high-value jobs.
There are a number of strategies within ORCP. The first one focuses on facilitating the movement of technology or scientific discovery from public universities and research institutions to the private sector. Here business knowledge and skills can help identify promising technologies, develop the technology into a product or service, and move them more rapidly to market. In total, ORCP supports 55 Ontario public research and not-for-profit organizations in their collaboration with numerous technology-based companies. This initiative, the first of its kind in Canada, is being implemented through Component A (Technology Transfer) and Component B (Proof of Principle or POP).
The second strategy (Component C or Building Receptor Capacity) supports working partnerships between companies and Ontario researchers. That initiative helps to speed up the development process and give each partner a competitive advantage. These collaborations allow small and medium-sized companies quicker access to intellectual property, and to Ontario's top researchers, the latest sophisticated equipment and research tools within institutions.
Finally, ORCP is giving the next generation of thinkers a head start. Here ORCP supports an internship program that will give the next generation of Ontario thinkers the practical business skills they need to help shape future discoveries into products and services.
ORCP and the Talent First Network
The Talent First Network (TFN) is one of the ORCP successful proponents. The TFN enables talented students to leverage internal and external resources to move technologies and knowledge to private sector companies.
The TFN is building a provincial network with companies, open source foundations, open source groups, universities and colleges. The TFN works across all three strategies of ORCP: knowledge transfer, proof of principle funding, and building industry capacity to innovate.
The TFN offers a unique and strategic approach to knowledge transfer and commercialization with a strong focus on the needs of clients ranging from researchers to entrepreneurs and start-ups to multinational corporations. This approach is a global best practice model which is aligned with the marketplace and the needs of clients which build business platforms from open source.
The TFN will help Ontario companies acquire and lever open source technologies and knowledge allowing them to compete more effectively in increasingly open environments. Talented graduates moving into the work force will be the focus. The TFN will provide students and companies with the training, tools and methods required for the transfer of open source technologies and their use for competitive advantage.
Ontario industry has become an importer of open source products and services as no major open source company and only one large open source foundation is headquartered in Ontario. Many major open source companies and open source foundations are headquartered in the United States. In 2006, VCs (Venture Capitalists) invested $500M in open source companies in the US, with $0 being invested in open source companies in Canada.
Dozens of open source user group exist in Ontario. Provincial and municipal governments have an interest in open source, but Canadian suppliers claim that they cannot sell them open source products and services. Open source assets are a cost-effective alternative to proprietary assets. The use of open source assets is pervasive across product markets in which Ontario companies compete.
Open source projects represent a radically new method to develop assets and to present economic opportunity. By removing the market and monopoly value from a product, open source exponentially increases the economic value by making the product more stable and robust. It also can provide first-mover advantage. It has a number of other specific advantages as compared to the more traditional ways of developing products.
The TFN is coordinating and catalyzing open source activity across the province to develop Ontario as a global leader in open source business development.
ORCP and Knowledge Transfer
MRI places a lot of emphasis on knowledge transfer. There is a distinction between traditional technology transfer and knowledge transfer.
Technology transfer is a term used to describe a formal transfer of rights to use and commercialize new discoveries and innovations resulting from scientific research to another party. Universities typically transfer technology through protecting (using patents and copyrights), then licensing new innovations. The major steps in this process include the disclosure of innovations, patenting the innovation concurrent with publication of scientific research and licensing the rights to innovations to industry for commercial development.
Knowledge transfer is an element of so-called informal technology transfer and it includes student placement, consultancy, research and training for industry, technology licensing, and spin-off company formation. Universities are tasked with knowledge creation and dissemination of this knowledge through an economic engine. Research faculty members are the key agents of knowledge transfer as they bring the value of innovation in tacit knowledge. Social networks through academic and industry scientists, university administrators, TTO directors, and managers/entrepreneurs allow knowledge transfer to work in both directions.
It is vital that university and other stakeholders are very clear on the university's objectives on knowledge transfer, motivations and benefits. The TFN project, backed by Carleton University's leadership as well as by great number of private industry leaders, is a very good example of how effective knowledge transfer can be achieved.