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Comparative Technology Transfer and Society 2.1 (2004) 123-124

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Notes from the Field

Thomas E. Clarke

Many of the pitfalls that Steven Koerner outlined in Canada's less-than-stellar attempt to transfer German science and technology to Canada after 1945 exist still today, although to a much lesser extent. For that reason, as I read his article on technology transfer, I did not know whether to laugh or cry at the failure to adjust policy given what history demonstrates.

A focus on technology transfer being strictly the transfer of hardware can still be found in some Canadian government laboratories, especially when there are rewards and recognition for successful transfer. There is, thank goodness, a better understanding that technology transfer is a "body contact" sport and that the developers of the technology or know-how need to be heavily involved in the transfer if the probability of successful transfer is to be increased.

The focus on hardware after 1945, and not on the people who developed it, although recognized by a few of the science and technology hunters, [End Page 123] was not sufficiently acted upon and obviously contributed to Canada's lackluster performance. Even today, many Canadian companies in the resource sectors of our economy have difficulty making use of modern technology from Europe owing to a lack of skilled workers. The mindset that patents need to be placed in the public domain in order to be useful is now known to be a major barrier to exploitation.

Failure to recognize that it was the science, engineering, and people behind the machines that were important, not the machines themselves, was a crucial policy mistake. That science and technology is a vital element in driving a modern economy is still being underestimated by many people both inside and outside of Canadian government. However, the recent establishment by our newly elected Prime Minister, Paul Joseph Martin, Jr., of a "National Science Advisor to the Prime Minister" position in his office provides hope that the past underplaying of the role of science and technology in the economic future of Canada might be coming to an end.

Koerner pointed out that Canada was slow to develop policies concerning the transfer of technology in 1945; this remains an issue today. Canada still does not have an overarching Technology Transfer Act or policy governing all aspects of the transfer of technology from government laboratories to industry, nor is it keeping up to date with other countries on the patenting of higher life forms. Information about deficiencies in the present Canadian technology transfer system can be found in the article, "Why Canada Needs a Technology Transfer Act" and in other articles on the website <>. Additional information about Canadian government technology transfer activities can be found on the website of the Federal Partners in Technology Transfer <http://fptt-pftt.>.

Canada relied on committees to direct the acquisition of new science and technology instead of on highly specialized teams composed of the right people looking for specific technologies and know-how. Thus, the voices of the few individuals who knew what had to be done to be successful were drowned out by political correctness of the time that discouraged the employment of German scientists and technicians in Canada.

Thomas Clarke is president of Stargate Consultants Limited, a firm specializing in R&D policy, program consulting, and the development and presentation of specialized management training workshops for research scientists. The firm presents two main workshops: "Technology Transfer from Government Laboratories to Industry" and "Motivation and Leadership of Scientists and Engineers," which is the longest running workshop of its kind in Canada with participants from every Canadian government science-based department and agency, as well as the United States Department of Agriculture. Mister Clarke graduated from the University of British Columbia with an M.Sc. and an M.B.A. He can be reached at <>.



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pp. 123-124
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