Quebec Ends University Tech Transfer Offices

On July 14 Quebec’s Ministry of Economy and Innovation announced the creation of a new organization to promote public research. Its mission: to increase the value of research, in particular through the commercialization of innovations, technological transfers as well as the structuring of social innovations in all regions of Quebec.

This new and as yet unnamed organization will replace some university technology transfer offices, which will cease their activities. Committees will be set up shortly to facilitate the transition of the activities of the three technology transfer offices in question (ALIGO Innovation at ETS, SOVAR at Laval and Univalor at the University of Montreal) to the new organization so that it will be able to begin operations by March 31, 2021.

Under the new system, research promotion services will be available to all stakeholders in this sector in Quebec. Universities, hospitals, public research centers and college technology transfer centers will have access to these services according to their respective needs and according to the user-pay principle. A press release from the Ministry made no mention of McGill, UQAM, Université de Sherbrooke, Concordia or any others. Direct questions about the future of technology commercialization at these institutions were not answered.

Additional funding, provided for in the budget of the Ministry of Economy and Innovation, will also be granted for the technological maturation program, support for the promotion of social innovations and business-university liaison offices, as well as the creation of a pre-seed venture capital fund. However, details of the fund including the verticals it will invest in, will be determined in collaboration with the organization’s new leaders at some future time. That being said, it is unclear at present who these new leaders will eventually be, and what will become of the staff currently employed at the technology transfer offices of the three schools in question. Jean-Pierre D’Auteuil, a spokesperson for the Ministry explained via email:

“We understand that the context creates a climate of uncertainty for employees. The government not only plans to continue supporting the promotion of public research in Quebec, but it also plans to increase the amounts available and integrate new tools to increase socio-economic benefits. In this context, the expertise of staff in promoting public research will obviously be sought and several opportunities to participate in the new development model will be offered.”

This soon to be created organization will be a non-profit organization independent from Investissement Québec and the Minister of the Economy and Innovation. Furthermore, it will be chaired by an independent board of directors. Its geographic location should be specified in the fall of 2020.

In developing this new model for promoting public research, the Ministry took into account the needs expressed by the main players following numerous consultations held during the past year, specifically to:

  • Obtain increased funding for technological maturation at early stages;
  • Implement a model that will ensure continuity of the funding chain;
  • Support a culture of innovation and entrepreneurship, particularly in universities; and
  • Promote the pooling or sharing of expertise, particularly in the protection of intellectual property.

The new model for promoting public research will aim to increase the number of technology transfers actually carried out, as well as the adoption of innovations by the business community, and consequently will modify and restructure its services specifically to achieve this. To that end, expertise related to marketing, market intelligence, entrepreneurship and corporate finance will be emphasized within the new organization.

The transition from a model of limited partnerships to one of a non-profit organization billing à la carte services, was designed to enable universities and affiliated hospitals to no longer have to contribute annually to university technology transfer offices. The theory being that the sums this frees up will give them greater flexibility to these institutions in the allocation of resources, in line with their respective needs.

According to the Ministry accessibility to the new service, currently exclusive to partners, will be extended to all public researchers, including other universities and hospital research centers, and other public research centers. It will be possible to access all of the organization’s experts, regardless of region, while the universities or affiliated hospitals must currently contact their respective technology transfer offices.

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