Social scientists should be involved up front in new technology projects to ensure the environment is conducive to commercial success. That’s the informed opinion of Dr. Richard Gold, a McGill University law professor, and one of a team of leading-edge researchers across Canada studying the economic, social, and cultural aspects of scientific discoveries. For the past four years, they have been investigating roadblocks to innovative products moving into the marketplace, and evaluating alternative policies and practices.
“We do science very well in Canada,” says Dr. Gold. “We punch above our weight — publishing, connecting internationally — but, sometimes, it goes nowhere.” One reason is that we have the paradigm backward. “We work on the science and hope the rest will fall into place. What we should be doing is making sure the environment is right, and then let the science fit in.”
The innovation environment is complex. “There are many different regulators across the country, federal and provincial, and many different granting agencies, each with different agendas. Then there’s the whole intellectual property regime: patent law, copyright law, privacy laws, trade secret laws. All more or less uncoordinated.” The situation engenders a tendency to “ignore it and just fund the science.”
Dr. Gold’s research with the VALGEN project shows how Canada can best regulate and manage intellectual property. It reveals, for example, that we cannot simply borrow policies from other countries; we require made-in-Canada solutions to create an innovative intellectual property regime. His findings offer invaluable evidence for decision makers within government to positively shape public policy, enhancing Canada’s competitiveness on the world stage.
To expedite commercial success, he says, Canada should capitalize on its strengths; agricultural research is just one example. “We need to set priorities. We can’t be good at everything. We have to think it through. Where do we have a competitive advantage? What incentives will encourage people to invest? What about the public; are we doing enough to explain the science?” Answering these questions is where social scientists take the lead.