On Oct. 16, Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology Pierre Duchesne unveiled the Parti Québécois government’s new National Research and Innovation Policy.
“The government will invest $3.7 billion over the next five years in research and innovation across a number of sectors that Concordia would have real strengths in,” said Concordia President Alan Shepard at the Oct. 16 board of governors meeting. “We’ll be looking at those opportunities quite closely in the weeks and months to come.”
The money will be spread among different sectors of research in Quebec, of which Concordia’s share represents about 11 per cent, explained Shepard. Besides universities, colleges and businesses, the government will invest $25 million in public school laboratories in disadvantaged areas.
The government will also invest in sectors including aerospace, public health, biotechnology, energy, creative industries, communications and sustainability.
“Probably for the first time, a research and innovation policy has also created space for researchers in the humanities, social sciences and the fine arts.This plan has cast a wide net and really captured the whole research community,” said Concordia Vice President of Research and Graduate Studies Graham Carr.
The government will issue calls for proposals in intervals over the next five years and Concordia will compete among other universities for funding. Shepard explained that judges won’t know which universities have submitted what inorder to maintain impartiality.
Though the research areas for the competition have been revealed, Carr stated Concordia is still a long way from knowing exactly how they will compete.
“We are very well informed of opportunities and very ready to participate,” said Shelley Sitahal, associate director of Research Partnerships and Innovation.
Minister Duchesne spoke at a conference on health innovation hosted by Concordia on Oct. 21. The conference helped to kick off MEDTEQ, the Quebec Consortium for Industrial Research and Innovation in Medical Technology’s project.
In light of the funds the government will invest in research and innovation, the question of whether Concordia should review their Policy on Intellectual Property with respect to students was raised at the board of governor’s meeting.
Concordia’s current IP Policy, which was established in 2011, has come under discussion this past spring as more undergraduate students engage in research, largely due to the emergence of District 3, an innovation centre at the university. Students also engage in research for Capstone projects which must be completed by undergraduates in engineering programs to earn their degree.
Shepard explained the issue of who can claim ownership and owns the intellectual property — whether it is the student who’s come up with a new idea or the university which provided the necessary resources — has arisen at many universities.
“It’s important that we have an IP policy that helps us be innovative,” said Dr. William E. Lynch, professor and chair of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the meeting. “I don’t think the IP Policy as it stands promotes innovation in my faculty.”
Bram Freedman, secretary-general of the Board of Governors, explained at the meeting that he and Shepard have discussed doing an overall examination of the current policy in how it affects students and mapping out IP policies in other Canadian universities.
“The existing policy is working extremely effectively,” said Freedman. He explained the issue in respect to undergraduate student projects has been resolved with the faculty of engineering and computer science to everyone’s mutual satisfaction by making exemptions for these students so that Concordia will not claim IP ownership.
Speaking with the Concordian, Carr and Sitahal confirmed that Concordia has not, in fact, changed the IP policy for undergraduate student projects. He stated there’s the perception that the policy is inflexible, when this is not the case.
“It’s a framework document,” said Sitahal, explaining why the policy allowed Concordia to deal fairly with students working at District 3 or on Capstone projects. “It anticipates there will be special circumstances so the policy allows us to deal with those initiatives in a special way.”
Sitahal explained the IP policy mirrors the collective agreement between the university and Concordia University Part-Time Faculty Association. She clarified that according to the policy, a faculty member has full control over what happens to their intellectual property.
“[This] was a negotiated position between the faculty association and the university, so we presume that everybody’s happy with it,” said Sitahal.
Carr explained the purpose of establishing an IP policy is to ensure research activities entail legal structural agreements in the ownership of ideas
“Our IP policy has worked very successfully in terms of our establishing partnerships with external organizations and at the same time, protecting the rights of researchers at Concordia,” said Carr.
Since IP policy can be complicated to grasp, Carr said students need to make informed choices when deciding to claim ownership rights or when signing any agreements.
“We have been approached by certain professors to come and do presentations in their classes,” said Sitahal regarding upcoming workshops on IP policy.
Concordia already offers workshops for graduate students and the university will begin providing more workshops for undergraduates.