The upcoming federal budget has been dubbed the innovation budget in some Ottawa circles, but the founder of the Centre for International Governance Innovation says it doesn't mean much if the Canadian government won't heed calls to implement an intellectual property strategy.
"Innovation without a national IP (intellectual property) strategy is philanthropy. You invent it, and invest in it, and others get the benefits," said Jim Balsillie, one of the founders of Research In Motion, the Canadian company responsible for the Blackberry smart phone.
"The most important thing, if you want this to be an innovation budget, is to have a national IP strategy...Just because you invent it, it doesn't mean you get the money for it."
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Balsillie, a persistent critic of the government's approach to innovation, said a national strategy would act like the base of a bucket for the innovation economy.
"If you don't have a strategy for protecting and owning your intellectual property, it doesn't matter how much input you put into it, it will always leak out," he told host Chris Hall, for a special pre-budget edition of The House airing Saturday.
"Canada has put hundreds of billions of dollars of inputs into innovation over the past several decades and we've had zero growth — and we have to ask the reason why."
Navdeep Bains, Canada's minister of innovation, science and economic development, said the government has done a poor job with helping companies scale up.
Last summer his department began hosting round-tables with people in the industry to craft an innovation agenda. So far, the three main points of investment are: people, emerging technologies and companies that need help scaling up, something Bains says both Finance Minister Bill Morneau and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau understand.
But Balsillie says it's a house built on a shaky foundation if Canadian companies risk losing control of their ideas, which can happen simply and quickly if a business partner or client adds a sentence to a contract retaining all intellectual property.
The second report from Dominic Barton, the chair of Morneau's council of economic advisers, partly focused on innovation, but Balsillie says the report fails to make a key distinction.
"That tragic confusion continues," he said. "We cannot confuse a science and technology strategy — which is invention — with a scale up strategy, which is innovation."
The date of the budget hasn't been released, until it is, Balsillie is hoping the people in charge of the government's money belt shift the way they see innovation.
"How you generate intellectual property, how you protect it, how you commercialize it, how you scale it globally, how you transfer it, is a very, very different set of policies and institutions and technical skills than the traditional 19th and 20th century industries. So you have to build the public policy infrastructure and the institutions to support that," he said.
"There are a large number of companies that could unlock billions and billions of dollars, tens of billions of dollars, very quickly. And if you do that, there's your two per cent growth per year."
This week, CBC Radio's The House is touring Ontario to hear what people want in the upcoming federal budget.
You can hear the full program Saturday at 9 a.m., 9:30 NT.