Ontario's innovation agenda shows progress

The Ontario government released its innovation agenda last week -- outlining directions and priorities for achieving a "high and sustainable level of prosperity" for residents of the province. For the most part, these kind of documents are views from 50,000 feet and aren't particularly contentious -- not many people are going to oppose easier access to capital, building business skills, and streamlined government processes, for example.

But I was pleased to see that there's been a lot of progress made over the last couple of years. I wrote a blog post in December 2005 taking issue with the language of government "commercialization" policy at that time, and all of my key complaints were addressed in last week's document.

It shows an awareness of the primary role of markets and products -- something almost unheard of in 2005. There's no mention of "receptor capacity" or any of the other artifacts of innovation theories generated by wonks and academics that had little connection to what actually happens in business. It even recognizes graduates as a part of "knowledge transfer" from universities -- it's by far the most important part, and the government doesn't quite go so far as to say that, but it's good to see them acknowledge that universities contribute much more than intellectual property to the province's innovation system.

At the very least, the rhetoric coming from the government has improved significantly over the last two or three years. That may not sound like much, but I see it as big step.

Having said that, I'm still opposed to the government's proposal to offer income tax exemptions to companies commercializing university-created IP -- but not to other companies commercializing innovation. This may be the final relic of old school innovation theories -- that innovation is something that primarily happens in universities and labs and that university-generated innovation should be given special treatment over other innovations, regardless of the potential economic impact that each offers.

Great ideas with the potential for significant economic benefits to the province can come from anywhere. With any luck, it won't take another two or three years to overthrow the view that innovations generated outside universities and labs are less deserving of support.

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