PLANT

We’re D-level innovators


April 8, 2010
by Joe Terrett, Editor

When it comes to innovation, Canada ranks near the bottom of the class.

Photo: iSockphoto

Canada is home to some great innovators: most famously Research In Motion and its ubiquitous Blackberry come to mind; but when it comes to innovation, we’re a D-level performer, according to a Conference Board of Canada ranking.

Its How Canada Performs report card places Canada 14th among 17 peer countries. Of the 12 measurement indicators, we get one B, two Cs and nine Ds. That lone B is for the number of scientific articles published per one million population.

And Canada ranks second to last on the new indicator—the number of international trademarks filed per million population—a measure of services sector innovations and non-technological innovations. Ten countries had at least twice our share of trademarks by population.

“Canada is well-supplied with educational institutions and carries out scientific research that is well-respected around the world,” says Gilles Rheaume, vice-president, public policy for the Ottawa-based research firm. “But, with a few exceptions, Canada does not successfully commercialize its scientific and technological discoveries into world leading products and services. Canadian companies are rarely at the leading edge of new technology and find themselves a step behind the leaders.”

Integration needed
Rheaume told PLANT there are “many, many factors” in play, among them: lack of an inviting domestic market for innovative new products and services; difficulty accessing risk capital; and the need for a more integrated national strategy from government.

He says the federal government is currently focussed on science and technology but pays little attention to commercialization. Rheaume stresses the importance of developing domestic markets: by providing incentives and establishing market standards, companies can nurture their innovations before taking them to the next level globally.

The Conference Board notes countries with the highest overall scores have developed successful national strategies for innovation, giving them global leadership in one or more areas. For example:

• Switzerland, the top-ranked country, is a leader in the pharmaceuticals industry.

• Ireland is the host of innovative information technology companies, and is a leader in high and medium-high technology manufacturing.

• The US fosters a combination of top science and engineering facilities, broad and deep capital markets and an entrepreneurial culture. It’s also a leader in share of world patents and knowledge-intensive services.