Building the economy and reputation through tech transfer
In recent months, I’ve had the opportunity to speak to several audiences – including London’s Chamber of Commerce and the London Economic Development Corporation – about the important role Western plays in contributing to the economy through technology transfer.
While Western is increasingly gaining public recognition for its reputation of providing Canada’s best student experience, our research strengths are less well known in the public domain. One strategy to enhance our research profile is to tell the story about the direct impact Western research has on the economy, particularly within our local community. And we have a good story to tell.
Together with the newly integrated Robarts Research Institute, the Lawson Health Research Institute and a variety of industry partners, Western is emerging as a national leader on several fronts when it comes to the commercialization of research. In 2005-06, for instance, Western ranked third nationally with $4.8 million in licensing income, and fourth in the country with 84 invention disclosures and eight US patents. In recent years, more than a dozen start-up companies, representing hundreds of jobs for the local economy, have got their beginnings from research happening on campus.
A current initiative to bolster our commercialization efforts is the creation of a city-wide technology transfer organization that will provide local inventors with a range of administrative, patent search and legal services. With more than $2 million invested by local institutions, plus federal and provincial funding, this new organization will aim to develop a national brand promoting three key areas of research happening in London where our links to industry are particularly strong.
These key areas include:
Imaging and medical devices
With more than 50 researchers at Western/Robarts and LHRI, London has become a national and international leader in imaging and medical device research. Leading facilities in our community in this area include the Centre for Brain and Mind, the Centre for Surgical Technology & Advanced Robotics (C-STAR), the NRC-Manufacturing Institute, and the National Centre for Audiology. Some $2 million per year in licensing revenue is being generated from this area alone, and more than two dozen imaging and medical device companies operate in London employing over 1,000 people.
Western is emerging as a national leader in this area thanks to several initiatives related to environmental sustainability. For instance, Western is leading an $11-million national biofuels research initiative of the Agricultural Bioproducts Innovation Program, sponsored by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, that aims to develop technology that converts agricultural waste into fuel. The new $22-million Claudette MacKay-Lassonde Pavilion under construction will provide a state-of-the-art facility for a range of green energy research undertaken by the Faculty of Engineering. Western’s new $28-million biotron is the only facility of its kind in Canada, providing a venue for biomass research. And the newly created Institute for Chemicals and Fuels from Alternative Sources (ICFAR) has established collaborative research projects with Syncrude (Edmonton), Suncor (Sarnia), Total (France) and FP Innovations (Pulp and Paper Research Institute of Canada).
Materials and biomaterials
Surface Science Western and the Synchrotron Radiation Group are two examples where Western is internationally renowned as a centre for excellence in materials research. Western’s Synchrotron Radiation Group was instrumental in creating the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon, a world-class facility that enables scientists to study the microstructure and chemical properties of materials. Located in Saskatoon, the CLS employs more than 130 people including scientists, engineers, technicians and administrative personnel. Despite its distant locale, Western researchers continue to dominate the field as leaders in the publication of results from the CLS facility. Here on campus, Surface Science Western – representing dozens of researchers spanning the fields of physics, chemistry and engineering – provides materials characterization services to more than 1,000 industrial clients, including multi-nationals such as General Motors, Honda, Novelis, CVRD Inco, Ontario Hydro, Babcock & Wilcox, Dupont.
While strong business and government support exists for all three of these focus areas, our attention to them does not preclude the development, support and expansion of other technologies and industries in emerging fields of research. Western will continue to pursue opportunities for technology transfer and commercialization throughout all our research endeavours.