Canada Innovation Corporation to support businesses in developing, protecting intellectual property, capturing global supply chain segments

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Ottawa has unveiled a new national agency with a mission of making Canadian businesses more innovative and productive.

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The Canada Innovation Corporation will support businesses across all sectors in developing and protecting intellectual property, as well as capturing segments of global supply chains, according to Finance Canada and Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED), the ministries overseeing the project.

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Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland and Innovation Minister François-Philippe Champagne on Feb. 16 released the blueprint document providing details on how the organization will operate.

“Canadian businesses do not invest in research and development at the same level as their global peers,” the document said, noting that this weakens Canada’s economic competitiveness and reduces opportunities for Canadian workers.

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The agency will become a subsidiary of the Canada Development Investment Corporation and will be accountable to Parliament, officials said, but will operate independently from government on a day-to-day basis and will be led by private sector experts.

The concept had been previously announced in the federal government’s 2022 budget as an innovation agency established to drive Canadian business investment in research and development.

“The CIC will help Canadian businesses across all sectors and regions to innovate, commercialize, grow, and create good jobs in a changing global economy,” officials said, adding that it will work with the private sector to provide targeted support to new and established Canadian companies by delivering funding and advisory services.

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It will operate with an initial budget of $2.6 billion over four years, funded through an annual statutory transfer, and is expected to begin its operations in 2023, officials said. The budget will grow over the initial four years to expand operations, they said.

The government said available funding is expected to range from around $50,000 to $5 million per project, depending on what is proposed. It said it will also be able to support a select number of larger-scale R&D projects, with the ability to provide support up to a maximum contribution of $20 million per project.

It added that the project evaluation process will be modified to the level of funding requested and determined by its board of directors and senior leadership.

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Council of Canadian Innovators, a group made up of CEOs from growing Canadian tech companies, welcomed the announcement but said what matters is the details of the agency’s mandate, as well as who will be leading it.

“The CEO and the board should really come from industry and understand how to take an idea, convert it into intellectual property and then commercialize that idea,” the group’s chief executive, Benjamin Bergen, said in an interview, adding that the agency needs leadership with first-hand experience in the private sector.

He said following the model of previous failed approaches that have left Canada at the bottom of the OECD innovation ranks by tapping someone from the incubator or accelerator ecosystems to lead the initiative would be a mistake, as would turning to the bureaucracy.

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“It needs to be someone who has more industry experience that they can bring to government and government policy rather than the other way around,” he said.

Bergen said those leading the agency will need to have deep knowledge of freedom-to-operate issues and navigating intellectual property issues, which has been emphasized in the blueprint. He added that the agency should have been established seven years ago, when the Liberal government first promised an innovation-led strategy for economic growth.

Dan Breznitz, co-director of the Innovation Policy Lab with the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy, said he also thinks leadership should come from the industry itself and “not the usual suspects.”

“The right people are not known to the government. They have to come forward,” Breznitz said in an interview. “It is time for business to actually suggest the right people for the job.”

Government officials said the National Research Council of Canada’s Industrial Research Assistance Program will join the agency to build a national-scale platform of business R&D support.

They said further details on the operations, as well as recruitment of its board and chief executive, will be announced in the coming months.

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