Tag Archives: Michael Geist

The Canadian science scene and the 2017 Canadian federal budget

There’s not much happening in the 2017-18 budget in terms of new spending according to Paul Wells’ March 22, 2017 article for TheStar.com,

This is the 22nd or 23rd federal budget I’ve covered. And I’ve never seen the like of the one Bill Morneau introduced on Wednesday [March 22, 2017].

Not even in the last days of the Harper Conservatives did a budget provide for so little new spending — $1.3 billion in the current budget year, total, in all fields of government. That’s a little less than half of one per cent of all federal program spending for this year.

But times are tight. The future is a place where we can dream. So the dollars flow more freely in later years. In 2021-22, the budget’s fifth planning year, new spending peaks at $8.2 billion. Which will be about 2.4 per cent of all program spending.

He’s not alone in this 2017 federal budget analysis; CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) pundits, Chantal Hébert, Andrew Coyne, and Jennifer Ditchburn said much the same during their ‘At Issue’ segment of the March 22, 2017 broadcast of The National (news).

Before I focus on the science and technology budget, here are some general highlights from the CBC’s March 22, 2017 article on the 2017-18 budget announcement (Note: Links have been removed,

Here are highlights from the 2017 federal budget:

  • Deficit: $28.5 billion, up from $25.4 billion projected in the fall.
  • Trend: Deficits gradually decline over next five years — but still at $18.8 billion in 2021-22.
  • Housing: $11.2 billion over 11 years, already budgeted, will go to a national housing strategy.
  • Child care: $7 billion over 10 years, already budgeted, for new spaces, starting 2018-19.
  • Indigenous: $3.4 billion in new money over five years for infrastructure, health and education.
  • Defence: $8.4 billion in capital spending for equipment pushed forward to 2035.
  • Care givers: New care-giving benefit up to 15 weeks, starting next year.
  • Skills: New agency to research and measure skills development, starting 2018-19.
  • Innovation: $950 million over five years to support business-led “superclusters.”
  • Startups: $400 million over three years for a new venture capital catalyst initiative.
  • AI: $125 million to launch a pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy.
  • Coding kids: $50 million over two years for initiatives to teach children to code.
  • Families: Option to extend parental leave up to 18 months.
  • Uber tax: GST to be collected on ride-sharing services.
  • Sin taxes: One cent more on a bottle of wine, five cents on 24 case of beer.
  • Bye-bye: No more Canada Savings Bonds.
  • Transit credit killed: 15 per cent non-refundable public transit tax credit phased out this year.

You can find the entire 2017-18 budget here.

Science and the 2017-18 budget

For anyone interested in the science news, you’ll find most of that in the 2017 budget’s Chapter 1 — Skills, Innovation and Middle Class jobs. As well, Wayne Kondro has written up a précis in his March 22, 2017 article for Science (magazine),

Finance officials, who speak on condition of anonymity during the budget lock-up, indicated the budgets of the granting councils, the main source of operational grants for university researchers, will be “static” until the government can assess recommendations that emerge from an expert panel formed in 2015 and headed by former University of Toronto President David Naylor to review basic science in Canada [highlighted in my June 15, 2016 posting ; $2M has been allocated for the advisor and associated secretariat]. Until then, the officials said, funding for the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) will remain at roughly $848 million, whereas that for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) will remain at $773 million, and for the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC] at $547 million.

NSERC, though, will receive $8.1 million over 5 years to administer a PromoScience Program that introduces youth, particularly unrepresented groups like Aboriginal people and women, to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics through measures like “space camps and conservation projects.” CIHR, meanwhile, could receive modest amounts from separate plans to identify climate change health risks and to reduce drug and substance abuse, the officials added.

… Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan, would funnel $600 million over 5 years allocated in 2016, and $112.5 million slated for public transit and green infrastructure, to create Silicon Valley–like “super clusters,” which the budget defined as “dense areas of business activity that contain large and small companies, post-secondary institutions and specialized talent and infrastructure.” …

… The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research will receive $93.7 million [emphasis mine] to “launch a Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy … (to) position Canada as a world-leading destination for companies seeking to invest in artificial intelligence and innovation.”

… Among more specific measures are vows to: Use $87.7 million in previous allocations to the Canada Research Chairs program to create 25 “Canada 150 Research Chairs” honoring the nation’s 150th year of existence, provide $1.5 million per year to support the operations of the office of the as-yet-unappointed national science adviser [see my Dec. 7, 2016 post for information about the job posting, which is now closed]; provide $165.7 million [emphasis mine] over 5 years for the nonprofit organization Mitacs to create roughly 6300 more co-op positions for university students and grads, and provide $60.7 million over five years for new Canadian Space Agency projects, particularly for Canadian participation in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s next Mars Orbiter Mission.

Kondros was either reading an earlier version of the budget or made an error regarding Mitacs (from the budget in the “A New, Ambitious Approach to Work-Integrated Learning” subsection),

Mitacs has set an ambitious goal of providing 10,000 work-integrated learning placements for Canadian post-secondary students and graduates each year—up from the current level of around 3,750 placements. Budget 2017 proposes to provide $221 million [emphasis mine] over five years, starting in 2017–18, to achieve this goal and provide relevant work experience to Canadian students.

As well, the budget item for the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy is $125M.

Moving from Kondros’ précis, the budget (in the “Positioning National Research Council Canada Within the Innovation and Skills Plan” subsection) announces support for these specific areas of science,

Stem Cell Research

The Stem Cell Network, established in 2001, is a national not-for-profit organization that helps translate stem cell research into clinical applications, commercial products and public policy. Its research holds great promise, offering the potential for new therapies and medical treatments for respiratory and heart diseases, cancer, diabetes, spinal cord injury, multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, auto-immune disorders and Parkinson’s disease. To support this important work, Budget 2017 proposes to provide the Stem Cell Network with renewed funding of $6 million in 2018–19.

Space Exploration

Canada has a long and proud history as a space-faring nation. As our international partners prepare to chart new missions, Budget 2017 proposes investments that will underscore Canada’s commitment to innovation and leadership in space. Budget 2017 proposes to provide $80.9 million on a cash basis over five years, starting in 2017–18, for new projects through the Canadian Space Agency that will demonstrate and utilize Canadian innovations in space, including in the field of quantum technology as well as for Mars surface observation. The latter project will enable Canada to join the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA’s) next Mars Orbiter Mission.

Quantum Information

The development of new quantum technologies has the potential to transform markets, create new industries and produce leading-edge jobs. The Institute for Quantum Computing is a world-leading Canadian research facility that furthers our understanding of these innovative technologies. Budget 2017 proposes to provide the Institute with renewed funding of $10 million over two years, starting in 2017–18.

Social Innovation

Through community-college partnerships, the Community and College Social Innovation Fund fosters positive social outcomes, such as the integration of vulnerable populations into Canadian communities. Following the success of this pilot program, Budget 2017 proposes to invest $10 million over two years, starting in 2017–18, to continue this work.

International Research Collaborations

The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) connects Canadian researchers with collaborative research networks led by eminent Canadian and international researchers on topics that touch all humanity. Past collaborations facilitated by CIFAR are credited with fostering Canada’s leadership in artificial intelligence and deep learning. Budget 2017 proposes to provide renewed and enhanced funding of $35 million over five years, starting in 2017–18.

Earlier this week, I highlighted Canada’s strength in the field of regenerative medicine, specifically stem cells in a March 21, 2017 posting. The $6M in the current budget doesn’t look like increased funding but rather a one-year extension. I’m sure they’re happy to receive it  but I imagine it’s a little hard to plan major research projects when you’re not sure how long your funding will last.

As for Canadian leadership in artificial intelligence, that was news to me. Here’s more from the budget,

Canada a Pioneer in Deep Learning in Machines and Brains

CIFAR’s Learning in Machines & Brains program has shaken up the field of artificial intelligence by pioneering a technique called “deep learning,” a computer technique inspired by the human brain and neural networks, which is now routinely used by the likes of Google and Facebook. The program brings together computer scientists, biologists, neuroscientists, psychologists and others, and the result is rich collaborations that have propelled artificial intelligence research forward. The program is co-directed by one of Canada’s foremost experts in artificial intelligence, the Université de Montréal’s Yoshua Bengio, and for his many contributions to the program, the University of Toronto’s Geoffrey Hinton, another Canadian leader in this field, was awarded the title of Distinguished Fellow by CIFAR in 2014.

Meanwhile, from chapter 1 of the budget in the subsection titled “Preparing for the Digital Economy,” there is this provision for children,

Providing educational opportunities for digital skills development to Canadian girls and boys—from kindergarten to grade 12—will give them the head start they need to find and keep good, well-paying, in-demand jobs. To help provide coding and digital skills education to more young Canadians, the Government intends to launch a competitive process through which digital skills training organizations can apply for funding. Budget 2017 proposes to provide $50 million over two years, starting in 2017–18, to support these teaching initiatives.

I wonder if BC Premier Christy Clark is heaving a sigh of relief. At the 2016 #BCTECH Summit, she announced that students in BC would learn to code at school and in newly enhanced coding camp programmes (see my Jan. 19, 2016 posting). Interestingly, there was no mention of additional funding to support her initiative. I guess this money from the federal government comes at a good time as we will have a provincial election later this spring where she can announce the initiative again and, this time, mention there’s money for it.

Attracting brains from afar

Ivan Semeniuk in his March 23, 2017 article (for the Globe and Mail) reads between the lines to analyze the budget’s possible impact on Canadian science,

But a between-the-lines reading of the budget document suggests the government also has another audience in mind: uneasy scientists from the United States and Britain.

The federal government showed its hand at the 2017 #BCTECH Summit. From a March 16, 2017 article by Meera Bains for the CBC news online,

At the B.C. tech summit, Navdeep Bains, Canada’s minister of innovation, said the government will act quickly to fast track work permits to attract highly skilled talent from other countries.

“We’re taking the processing time, which takes months, and reducing it to two weeks for immigration processing for individuals [who] need to come here to help companies grow and scale up,” Bains said.

“So this is a big deal. It’s a game changer.”

That change will happen through the Global Talent Stream, a new program under the federal government’s temporary foreign worker program.  It’s scheduled to begin on June 12, 2017.

U.S. companies are taking notice and a Canadian firm, True North, is offering to help them set up shop.

“What we suggest is that they think about moving their operations, or at least a chunk of their operations, to Vancouver, set up a Canadian subsidiary,” said the company’s founder, Michael Tippett.

“And that subsidiary would be able to house and accommodate those employees.”

Industry experts says while the future is unclear for the tech sector in the U.S., it’s clear high tech in B.C. is gearing up to take advantage.

US business attempts to take advantage of Canada’s relative stability and openness to immigration would seem to be the motive for at least one cross border initiative, the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative. From my Feb. 28, 2017 posting,

There was some big news about the smallest version of the Cascadia region on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 when the University of British Columbia (UBC) , the University of Washington (state; UW), and Microsoft announced the launch of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative. From the joint Feb. 23, 2017 news release (read on the UBC website or read on the UW website),

In an expansion of regional cooperation, the University of British Columbia and the University of Washington today announced the establishment of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative to use data to help cities and communities address challenges from traffic to homelessness. The largest industry-funded research partnership between UBC and the UW, the collaborative will bring faculty, students and community stakeholders together to solve problems, and is made possible thanks to a $1-million gift from Microsoft.

Today’s announcement follows last September’s [2016] Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver, B.C. The forum brought together regional leaders for the first time to identify concrete opportunities for partnerships in education, transportation, university research, human capital and other areas.

A Boston Consulting Group study unveiled at the conference showed the region between Seattle and Vancouver has “high potential to cultivate an innovation corridor” that competes on an international scale, but only if regional leaders work together. The study says that could be possible through sustained collaboration aided by an educated and skilled workforce, a vibrant network of research universities and a dynamic policy environment.

It gets better, it seems Microsoft has been positioning itself for a while if Matt Day’s analysis is correct (from my Feb. 28, 2017 posting),

Matt Day in a Feb. 23, 2017 article for the The Seattle Times provides additional perspective (Note: Links have been removed),

Microsoft’s effort to nudge Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., a bit closer together got an endorsement Thursday [Feb. 23, 2017] from the leading university in each city.

The partnership has its roots in a September [2016] conference in Vancouver organized by Microsoft’s public affairs and lobbying unit [emphasis mine.] That gathering was aimed at tying business, government and educational institutions in Microsoft’s home region in the Seattle area closer to its Canadian neighbor.

Microsoft last year [2016] opened an expanded office in downtown Vancouver with space for 750 employees, an outpost partly designed to draw to the Northwest more engineers than the company can get through the U.S. guest worker system [emphasis mine].

This was all prior to President Trump’s legislative moves in the US, which have at least one Canadian observer a little more gleeful than I’m comfortable with. From a March 21, 2017 article by Susan Lum  for CBC News online,

U.S. President Donald Trump’s efforts to limit travel into his country while simultaneously cutting money from science-based programs provides an opportunity for Canada’s science sector, says a leading Canadian researcher.

“This is Canada’s moment. I think it’s a time we should be bold,” said Alan Bernstein, president of CIFAR [which on March 22, 2017 was awarded $125M to launch the Pan Canada Artificial Intelligence Strategy in the Canadian federal budget announcement], a global research network that funds hundreds of scientists in 16 countries.

Bernstein believes there are many reasons why Canada has become increasingly attractive to scientists around the world, including the political climate in the United States and the Trump administration’s travel bans.

Thankfully, Bernstein calms down a bit,

“It used to be if you were a bright young person anywhere in the world, you would want to go to Harvard or Berkeley or Stanford, or what have you. Now I think you should give pause to that,” he said. “We have pretty good universities here [emphasis mine]. We speak English. We’re a welcoming society for immigrants.”​

Bernstein cautions that Canada should not be seen to be poaching scientists from the United States — but there is an opportunity.

“It’s as if we’ve been in a choir of an opera in the back of the stage and all of a sudden the stars all left the stage. And the audience is expecting us to sing an aria. So we should sing,” Bernstein said.

Bernstein said the federal government, with this week’s so-called innovation budget, can help Canada hit the right notes.

“Innovation is built on fundamental science, so I’m looking to see if the government is willing to support, in a big way, fundamental science in the country.”

Pretty good universities, eh? Thank you, Dr. Bernstein, for keeping some of the boosterism in check. Let’s leave the chest thumping to President Trump and his cronies.

Ivan Semeniuk’s March 23, 2017 article (for the Globe and Mail) provides more details about the situation in the US and in Britain,

Last week, Donald Trump’s first budget request made clear the U.S. President would significantly reduce or entirely eliminate research funding in areas such as climate science and renewable energy if permitted by Congress. Even the National Institutes of Health, which spearheads medical research in the United States and is historically supported across party lines, was unexpectedly targeted for a $6-billion (U.S.) cut that the White House said could be achieved through “efficiencies.”

In Britain, a recent survey found that 42 per cent of academics were considering leaving the country over worries about a less welcoming environment and the loss of research money that a split with the European Union is expected to bring.

In contrast, Canada’s upbeat language about science in the budget makes a not-so-subtle pitch for diversity and talent from abroad, including $117.6-million to establish 25 research chairs with the aim of attracting “top-tier international scholars.”

For good measure, the budget also includes funding for science promotion and $2-million annually for Canada’s yet-to-be-hired Chief Science Advisor, whose duties will include ensuring that government researchers can speak freely about their work.

“What we’ve been hearing over the last few months is that Canada is seen as a beacon, for its openness and for its commitment to science,” said Ms. Duncan [Kirsty Duncan, Minister of Science], who did not refer directly to either the United States or Britain in her comments.

Providing a less optimistic note, Erica Alini in her March 22, 2017 online article for Global News mentions a perennial problem, the Canadian brain drain,

The budget includes a slew of proposed reforms and boosted funding for existing training programs, as well as new skills-development resources for unemployed and underemployed Canadians not covered under current EI-funded programs.

There are initiatives to help women and indigenous people get degrees or training in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (the so-called STEM subjects) and even to teach kids as young as kindergarten-age to code.

But there was no mention of how to make sure Canadians with the right skills remain in Canada, TD’s DePratto {Toronto Dominion Bank} Economics; TD is currently experiencing a scandal {March 13, 2017 Huffington Post news item}] told Global News.

Canada ranks in the middle of the pack compared to other advanced economies when it comes to its share of its graduates in STEM fields, but the U.S. doesn’t shine either, said DePratto [Brian DePratto, senior economist at TD .

The key difference between Canada and the U.S. is the ability to retain domestic talent and attract brains from all over the world, he noted.

To be blunt, there may be some opportunities for Canadian science but it does well to remember (a) US businesses have no particular loyalty to Canada and (b) all it takes is an election to change any perceived advantages to disadvantages.

Digital policy and intellectual property issues

Dubbed by some as the ‘innovation’ budget (official title:  Building a Strong Middle Class), there is an attempt to address a longstanding innovation issue (from a March 22, 2017 posting by Michael Geist on his eponymous blog (Note: Links have been removed),

The release of today’s [march 22, 2017] federal budget is expected to include a significant emphasis on innovation, with the government revealing how it plans to spend (or re-allocate) hundreds of millions of dollars that is intended to support innovation. Canada’s dismal innovation record needs attention, but spending our way to a more innovative economy is unlikely to yield the desired results. While Navdeep Bains, the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister, has talked for months about the importance of innovation, Toronto Star columnist Paul Wells today delivers a cutting but accurate assessment of those efforts:

“This government is the first with a minister for innovation! He’s Navdeep Bains. He frequently posts photos of his meetings on Twitter, with the hashtag “#innovation.” That’s how you know there is innovation going on. A year and a half after he became the minister for #innovation, it’s not clear what Bains’s plans are. It’s pretty clear that within the government he has less than complete control over #innovation. There’s an advisory council on economic growth, chaired by the McKinsey guru Dominic Barton, which periodically reports to the government urging more #innovation.

There’s a science advisory panel, chaired by former University of Toronto president David Naylor, that delivered a report to Science Minister Kirsty Duncan more than three months ago. That report has vanished. One presumes that’s because it offered some advice. Whatever Bains proposes, it will have company.”

Wells is right. Bains has been very visible with plenty of meetings and public photo shoots but no obvious innovation policy direction. This represents a missed opportunity since Bains has plenty of policy tools at his disposal that could advance Canada’s innovation framework without focusing on government spending.

For example, Canada’s communications system – wireless and broadband Internet access – falls directly within his portfolio and is crucial for both business and consumers. Yet Bains has been largely missing in action on the file. He gave approval for the Bell – MTS merger that virtually everyone concedes will increase prices in the province and make the communications market less competitive. There are potential policy measures that could bring new competitors into the market (MVNOs [mobile virtual network operators] and municipal broadband) and that could make it easier for consumers to switch providers (ban on unlocking devices). Some of this falls to the CRTC, but government direction and emphasis would make a difference.

Even more troubling has been his near total invisibility on issues relating to new fees or taxes on Internet access and digital services. Canadian Heritage Minister Mélanie Joly has taken control of the issue with the possibility that Canadians could face increased costs for their Internet access or digital services through mandatory fees to contribute to Canadian content.  Leaving aside the policy objections to such an approach (reducing affordable access and the fact that foreign sources now contribute more toward Canadian English language TV production than Canadian broadcasters and distributors), Internet access and e-commerce are supposed to be Bains’ issue and they have a direct connection to the innovation file. How is it possible for the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister to have remained silent for months on the issue?

Bains has been largely missing on trade related innovation issues as well. My Globe and Mail column today focuses on a digital-era NAFTA, pointing to likely U.S. demands on data localization, data transfers, e-commerce rules, and net neutrality.  These are all issues that fall under Bains’ portfolio and will impact investment in Canadian networks and digital services. There are innovation opportunities for Canada here, but Bains has been content to leave the policy issues to others, who will be willing to sacrifice potential gains in those areas.

Intellectual property policy is yet another area that falls directly under Bains’ mandate with an obvious link to innovation, but he has done little on the file. Canada won a huge NAFTA victory late last week involving the Canadian patent system, which was challenged by pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly. Why has Bains not promoted the decision as an affirmation of how Canada’s intellectual property rules?

On the copyright front, the government is scheduled to conduct a review of the Copyright Act later this year, but it is not clear whether Bains will take the lead or again cede responsibility to Joly. The Copyright Act is statutorily under the Industry Minister and reform offers the chance to kickstart innovation. …

For anyone who’s not familiar with this area, innovation is often code for commercialization of science and technology research efforts. These days, digital service and access policies and intellectual property policies are all key to research and innovation efforts.

The country that’s most often (except in mainstream Canadian news media) held up as an example of leadership in innovation is Estonia. The Economist profiled the country in a July 31, 2013 article and a July 7, 2016 article on apolitical.co provides and update.

Conclusions

Science monies for the tri-council science funding agencies (NSERC, SSHRC, and CIHR) are more or less flat but there were a number of line items in the federal budget which qualify as science funding. The $221M over five years for Mitacs, the $125M for the Pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence Strategy, additional funding for the Canada research chairs, and some of the digital funding could also be included as part of the overall haul. This is in line with the former government’s (Stephen Harper’s Conservatives) penchant for keeping the tri-council’s budgets under control while spreading largesse elsewhere (notably the Perimeter Institute, TRIUMF [Canada’s National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics], and, in the 2015 budget, $243.5-million towards the Thirty Metre Telescope (TMT) — a massive astronomical observatory to be constructed on the summit of Mauna Kea, Hawaii, a $1.5-billion project). This has lead to some hard feelings in the past with regard to ‘big science’ projects getting what some have felt is an undeserved boost in finances while the ‘small fish’ are left scrabbling for the ever-diminishing (due to budget cuts in years past and inflation) pittances available from the tri-council agencies.

Mitacs, which started life as a federally funded Network Centre for Excellence focused on mathematics, has since shifted focus to become an innovation ‘champion’. You can find Mitacs here and you can find the organization’s March 2016 budget submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance here. At the time, they did not request a specific amount of money; they just asked for more.

The amount Mitacs expects to receive this year is over $40M which represents more than double what they received from the federal government and almost of 1/2 of their total income in the 2015-16 fiscal year according to their 2015-16 annual report (see p. 327 for the Mitacs Statement of Operations to March 31, 2016). In fact, the federal government forked over $39,900,189. in the 2015-16 fiscal year to be their largest supporter while Mitacs’ total income (receipts) was $81,993,390.

It’s a strange thing but too much money, etc. can be as bad as too little. I wish the folks Mitacs nothing but good luck with their windfall.

I don’t see anything in the budget that encourages innovation and investment from the industrial sector in Canada.

Finallyl, innovation is a cultural issue as much as it is a financial issue and having worked with a number of developers and start-up companies, the most popular business model is to develop a successful business that will be acquired by a large enterprise thereby allowing the entrepreneurs to retire before the age of 30 (or 40 at the latest). I don’t see anything from the government acknowledging the problem let alone any attempts to tackle it.

All in all, it was a decent budget with nothing in it to seriously offend anyone.

US Patent and Trademarks Office invests in a public relations campaign

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC has been renovating its Arts and Industries Building since 2004. It is not scheduled to reopen until 2014 but there will be a ‘soft’ launch of a new partnership between the Smithsonian and the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)  in June 2013, which relates to building’s refurbishment, according to David Bruggeman’s Jan. 20, 2013 posting on his Pasco Phronesis blog,

The partnership will include developing and displaying innovation-themed exhibits in the Arts and Industries Building.  In addition, the Smithsonian and the USPTO will sponsor an Innovation Expo in June 2013 at the USPTO headquarters in Alexandria (with future expos in the Pavilion).  Placing this pavilion in the Arts and Industries Building is a sort-of homecoming, as technology and progress were themes of many exhibits when the building first opened as the National Museum in 1881.

This seven-year, $7.5 million partnership is not the first collaboration between the USPTO and the Smithsonian. …

Here’s more about the Expo from the USPTO Innovation Expo webpage where they are appealing for more exhibitors,

The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and the Smithsonian Institution are teaming up to stage the 2013 Innovation Expo. This is your chance to join a select group of technological game-changers in a celebration of ingenuity and patented technology.

The Expo will be held June 20-22, 2013, at the USPTO’s headquarters in Alexandria, Va., just across the Potomac River from the nation’s capital. The combination of the USPTO’s soaring architecture and the Smithsonian’s world-renowned exhibition programing makes the Innovation Expo an extraordinary opportunity for both exhibitors and attendees. Under terms of an agreement signed by the USPTO and the Smithsonian, the Expo will move to the National Mall in the summer of 2014 when the historic Arts and Industries Building reopens.

For three days, exhibits at this free and open-to-the-public event will showcase the latest technological developments from America’s innovators affiliated with large corporations, small businesses, academic institutions, government agencies, and the independent inventor community.

The Expo will also demonstrate the vital role America’s intellectual property system and the USPTO play in promoting and protecting innovation, a role that contributes greatly to America’s competitiveness and prowess in the global economy. [emphases mine]

The application deadline has been extended to March 31, 2013. Exhibition slots will be awarded to qualified U.S. patent owners on a rolling basis. Space is limited, so apply now.

Applications will be reviewed by an independent committee made up of representatives from some of the most important and respected intellectual property organizations.

If that wasn’t enough, the Smithsonian Institution’s Jan. 16, 2013 news release makes the purpose for this project blindingly apparent,

The collaboration will begin this year with an Innovation Expo June 20-22 at the Patent and Trademark Office’s headquarters in Alexandria, Va., where the latest technological developments—patented technologies from American companies—will be showcased. The three-day expo will feature a narrative about how the U.S. patent system promotes innovation and technological development. [emphasis mine] The Innovation Expo, which will be organized in partnership with the Smithsonian, will serve as a template for future expos to be held in the Innovation Pavilion at the A&I Building (the Pavilion will cover around 18,000 square feet of the 40,000 square feet of public space in the building).

During 2013, the Smithsonian will also develop further designs for the new Innovation Pavilion and begin work on plans for exhibitions and programming. The Pavilion will be a center for active learning, engaging visitors using digital technology and informing them about new developments in American innovation and technology. The collaboration is described in a Memorandum of Agreement signed by the Smithsonian Secretary and the director of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. The USPTO anticipates supporting the Pavilion over the term of the collaboration.

“The Arts and Industries Building has always been about celebrating innovation and progress, and it has been one of my goals to reopen the building and return it to that purpose,” said Wayne Clough, Smithsonian Secretary. “Through this collaboration with the United States Patent and Trademark Office, we will create a program that not only celebrates American ingenuity, but also reflects the 21st century expectations of our visitors.”

“We look forward to working with the Smithsonian to showcase America’s rich history and bright future of innovation, providing a workshop where inventors of all ages can interact together,” said Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director of the USPTO David Kappos.

The Smithsonian and the USPTO have worked together on several projects in recent years, including three exhibitions: “The Great American Hall of Wonders” and “To Build a Better Mousetrap” at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, and an exhibition about Apple Inc. founder Steve Jobs’ patents in the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center.

$7.5 million of taxpayer money to promote an intellectual property system that seems to be in serious trouble, along with many other such systems around the world, is a time-honoured fashion of dealing with these kinds of  problems. Generally, they are doomed to fail. As I like to say, you can put a gift bow on a pile of manure but unless you trot a pony out right quickly, it’s no gift. And, the USPTO definitely does not have a pony waiting nearby.

I have written many pieces on the problems with intellectual property systems. There’s this Nov. 23, 2012 posting about patents strangling nanotechnology developments, this Oct. 10, 2012 posting about a UN patent summit concerning smartphones and patent problems; and this June 28, 2012 posting about patent trolls and their impact on the US economy (billions of dollars lost), amongst the others. For more comprehensive news, Techdirt covers the US scene and Michael Geist covers the Canadian scene. Both cover international intellectual property issues as well.

European Union, copyright, stakeholder meetings, and ripple effects

According to the Dec. 6, 2012 posting by Ben Zevenbergen on Techdirt the European Union will commence a yearlong, starting in 2013,  ‘structured stakeholder process’ to discuss copyright reform,

This exercise will assess whether “the market” is able to address the current deficiencies of copyright in the following six topics: “cross-border portability of content, user-generated content, data- and text-mining, private copy levies, access to audiovisual works and cultural heritage.

Zevenberg goes on to analyze the six topics at more length and he also discusses the politics that led to this develoment but the part I found most interesting focuses on possible ripple effects (Note: I have removed links),

Hopefully the British will now feel supported in implementing the recommendations of the Hargreaves report. Perhaps the Dutch will also feel justified to proceed with the idea to make their copyright system more flexible. Overseas governments may also feel reinforced to open the discussions on their copyright systems and join the EU in finding the new way forward. But will the EU’s move encourage the GOP [US Republican Party] to republish their recent insightful report on copyright reform?

You can find the Hargreaves report here and Michael Geist’s May 18, 2011 posting about the report and his August 3, 2011 posting about the government’s response to the report. For anyone unfamiliar with Geist, here’s an excerpt from his blog’s About page,

Dr. Michael Geist is a law professor at the University of Ottawa where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Internet and E-commerce Law. He has obtained a Bachelor of Laws (LL.B.) degree from Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, Master of Laws (LL.M.) degrees from Cambridge University in the UK and Columbia Law School in New York, and a Doctorate in Law (J.S.D.) from Columbia Law School.  Dr. Geist is an internationally syndicated columnist on technology law issues …

Billions lost to patent trolls; US White House asks for comments on intellectual property (IP) enforcement; and more on IP

It becomes clear after a time that science, intellectual property (patents, copyright, and trademarks), and business interests are intimately linked which is why I include items on the topic of intellectual property (where I am developing some strong opinions). As for business topics, I am more neutral as my understanding of business is quite limited.

All of this is to explain why I’m taking ‘another kick at the IP (intellectual property) can’. I’m going to start with patents and move on to copyright.

A June 26, 2012 news item from BBC News online highlights the costs associated with patent trolls,

The direct cost of actions taken by so-called “patent trolls” totalled $29bn (£18.5bn) in the US in 2011, according to a study by Boston University.

It analysed the effect of intellectual rights claims made by organisations that own and license patents without producing related goods of their own.

Such bodies say they help spur on innovation by ensuring inventors are compensated for their creations.

But the study’s authors said society lost more than it gained.

A June 27, 2012 commentary by Mike Masnick for Techdirt provides more detail,

The report then goes further to try to figure out whether the trolls are actually benefiting innovation and getting more money to inventors, as the trolls and their supporters like to claim. Unfortunately, the research shows quite a different story — with very little of the money actually flowing back to either inventors or actual innovation. In other words, we’re talking about a pretty massive economic dead-weight loss here. Money flowing from actual innovators and creators… to lawyers, basically. Innovators grow the economy. Lawyers do not.

Masnick’s commentary includes a table from the report showing how the costs have increased since 2005 (approximately $6B) to 2011 (approximately $29B).

The researchers are James E. Besson and Michael J. Meurer at Boston University and the open access report, The Direct Costs from NPE [non-practicing entities] Disputes, is available from the Social Science Research Network.

Interestingly the same day the study from Boston University was released was the same day that the US White House’s Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, Victoria Espinel, announced she wanted comments about US IP enforcement efforts (from Espinel’s June 25, 2012 blog posting),

Today my office is starting the process of gathering input for the Administration’s new strategy for intellectual property enforcement. The overarching objective of the Strategy is to improve the effectiveness of the U.S. Government’s efforts to protect our intellectual property here and overseas. I want to make sure as many people as possible are aware that we are working on this so we can get the very best thoughts and recommendations possible. Part of the process of gathering public input is to publish a “Federal Register Notice” where we formally ask the public to give us their ideas. We will read all of your submissions – and we will make them publicly available so everyone can see them.

You can do so by following this link to Regulations.gov where you will find more details for submitting your strategy recommendations beginning today.

I believe that essential to the development of an effective enforcement strategy, is ensuring that any approaches that are considered to be particularly effective as well as any concerns with the present approach to intellectual property enforcement are understood by policymakers. [emphasis Mike Masnick of Techdirt] Recommendations may include, but need not be limited to: legislation, regulation, guidance, executive order, Presidential memoranda, or other executive action, including, but not limited to, changes to agency policies, practices or methods.

Beyond recommendations for government action as part of the next Strategy, we are looking for information on and recommendations for combating emerging or future threats to American innovation and economic competitiveness posed by violations of intellectual property rights. Additionally, it would be useful to the development of the Strategy to receive submissions from the public identifying threats to public health and safety posed by intellectual property infringement, [emphasis mine] in the U.S. and internationally as well as information relating to the costs to the U.S. economy resulting from infringement of intellectual property rights.

Aside: That bit about public health and safety being endangered by infringement is going to have to be explained to me. Moving along, Mike Masnick’s June 26, 2012 commentary about this matter on Techdirt includes an exhortation to participate,

I will be submitting my own thoughts, which I will also publish here, but for those thinking about what to say, I would focus on this sentence above [emphasized in the previous excerpt from the Espinel posting “I believe that essential …”]. Historically, many of the government’s approaches have not been at all effective, and have created a number of significant problems — most of which have been ignored by the government (either willfully or through ignorance). This really is a chance to provide examples of why the current policy is not effective (and will never be effective if it keeps on the current path) as well as the “concerns” with the current approach, such as the criminalization of expressive behavior and the outright censorship of media publications.

Meanwhile, we here in Canada are focused on copyright.

Michael Geist (the Canadian copyright guru) notes in his June 26, 2012 posting (Note: I have removed some links.),

Brian Brett, the former Chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada and an award winning author, has issued an explosive public letter that “breaks the ‘cone of silence’ that has obscured for too long some of the ugly practices of Access Copyright.”

You can get an idea why Geist described the letter as “explosive” from this excerpt (from the June 26, 2012 commentary in the Georgia Straight),

As a former Chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada (I’ve been a member more than thirty years), I have been asked to sign a letter to educational institutions supporting Access Copyright’s efforts to obtain collective licensing agreements with those institutions. I will not sign. I believe the time has come for action, not words. …

For the first time in history it has become too complex and expensive to quote the music of our era for many young writers. Writers are being charged exorbitantly for quoting other writers in their poems, fictions, and essays; yet are losing their own rights and income. Meanwhile, the Canadian Government has made legislation favouring educational institutions and media empires (at the expense of creators) in the name of supporting our nation’s culture.

As we earnestly discuss these issues, but do nothing to protect ourselves, we are seeing the rights of creators to fair compensation eroded to the point of where many are at risk of receiving nothing for their work.

Access Copyright, created specifically to collect fair compensation for creators, is central to this discussion. While I believe that educational institutions must pay writers, and will eventually pay them, it’s also necessary to call out the ugly regime of Access Copyright, which is collecting our copyright income. …

6. Access Copyright rewards textbook companies who demand that authors relinquish their copyright to their work by paying them both the publisher and creator copyright payment. Academic authors often consider textbook authorship crucial to tenure. Thus academic authors are open to being pressured by publishers out of their copyright. In effect Access Copyright is encouraging textbook publishers to undermine copyright by demanding a creators’ total copyright, and doubling the publisher’s payment for this ugly practice.

So, the academics who write those science and math (and other subject) texts are being pressured by financially motivated publishers to give up copyright while they are also being being pressured to publish for the well-being of their careers. Nicely done Access Copyright! (sarcasm)

While I suspect that I don’t agree with Betts on some issues, I do believe that content creators should receive some financial benefit from their work.

On a more hopeful note, the recent passage of Bill C-11 (Copyright) has some very good things indeed (from the June 21, 2012 commentary by Leigh Beadon on Techdirt [Note: I have removed a link.]),

Michael Geist has an excellent summary of C-11 with a comparison to previous phases of copyright law in Canada. The victories for smarter copyright law in C-11 sound almost like fantasy when compared to the American copyright debate. They include:

  • New fair dealing provisions (our version of fair use) to cover educational uses, plus parody and satire
  • New backup, format-shifting and time-shifting allowances that remove previous restrictions on networked DVRs and internet TV services (similar to those that have suffered in American courts)
  • Explicit copyright exceptions for “user-generated content”, aimed at protecting non-commercial fan-art and remixes
  • A bunch of explicit exceptions for schools, such as the right to stage public performances
  • A notice-and-notice system, not a notice-and-takedown system
  • A $5,000 cap on statutory damages for all non-commercial infringement

Sadly, there is the issue of the ‘digital lock’ provision which was rammed through Parliament despite almost universal condemnation from Canadians of all walks of life. Geist provides much more detail about this issue than I can. In fact, he offers two postings outlining both Canada’s Justice Dept. discussion about the digital lock provisions (June 25, 2012 posting) and the Competition Bureau’s (June 26, 2012 posting) and possible issues with constitutional rights.

On a much happier note for me personally is a recent Federal Court of Canada ruling about linking and posting, from the June 25, 2012 posting on the Michael Geist blog (Note: I have removed links.),

The Federal Court of Canada has issued an important decision involving copyright and posting content online. The case involves a lawsuit launched by Richard Warman and the National Post against Mark and Constance Fournier, who run the FreeDominion website. Warman and the National Post sued the site over the appearance of two articles and an inline link to photograph that appeared on the forum. The court dismissed all three claims.

While the first claim (Warman’s article) was dismissed on the basis that it took too long to file the lawsuit, the legal analysis on the National Post claim involving an article by Jonathan Kay assesses the copyright implications of posting several paragraphs from an article online. In this case, the article was 11 paragraphs long.  The reproduction on the Free Dominion site included the headline, three complete paragraphs and part of a fourth. The court ruled that this amount of copying did not constitute a “substantial part” of the work and therefore there was no infringement. The court added that in the alternative, the reproduction of the work was covered by fair dealing, concluding that a large and liberal interpretation of news reporting would include posts to the discussion forum.  The decision then includes an analysis of the six factor test and concludes that the use was fair.

So I can link to and quote from Canadian publications in peace, for now. (Great news!)

There is some additional analysis of the ruling in a (h/t) June 26, 2012 posting by Leigh Beadon on the Techdirt website.

No grand thoughts here. I just find this very fluid situation with regard to intellectual property important as I believe the outcomes will affect us all in many ways, including how we practice science.

Media piracy study and Canada’s International Development Research Centre

Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC) helped to fund (along with the Ford Foundation) a massive study on media piracy in emerging economies led and published by the US Social Sciences Research Council in March 2011. It was a global effort also supported by Brazil’s Overmundo Institute and the Center for Technology and Society, Getulio Vargas Foundation; India’s Sarai: The Centre for the Study of Developing Societies and The Alternative Law Forum; South Africa’s The Association for Progressive Communication; Russia’s The Centre for Independent Social Research and The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology; and the US’s The Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property. I half expected to see China listed too and I find the absence surprising.

It was a March 8, 2011 posting by Mike Masnick on Techdirt that alerted me to the study. (from the posting),

… much in the report is extremely forward-looking and thinking. It goes into great detail how fascinating and innovative new business models are appearing around the globe where “piracy” is rampant, and suggests that we really need to rethink the idea of “piracy” in those markets. It highlights how almost all of the policy discussions in the west concerning infringement focuses on “enforcement,” but that may be the wrong way to go about it. The research, instead, points out that a better focus may be on setting up the structures for successful business models to emerge — which include local firms who can compete on prices …

The 440 page report, Media piracy in Emerging Economies, is available under various licensing agreements (free and pay).

Yesterday (June 1, 2011), I received a media advisory from the IDRC informing me of a panel discussion being held tomorrow, June 3, 2011,from 2 pm to 4 pm EDT in Ottawa (if you can’t get to the live panel discussion, you can view it via livestreaming webcast). From the media advisory,

Media Piracy in Emerging Economies, a landmark study co-funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC), made headlines around the world earlier this year. The controversial study determined that this “global scourge” was better described as a global pricing problem: high prices for media goods, combined with low incomes and cheap digital technologies. The report underscored that attempts to police piracy aren’t working and that, in some cases, global enforcement has led to unintended negative socio-economic consequences.

In a panel discussion at IDRC on June 3, three internationally renowned experts will discuss the implications of media piracy for the global economy. Media Piracy in Emerging Economies editor Joe Karaganis, from the American Assembly at Columbia University, and one of the researchers, Ronaldo Lemos, from Brazil’s Center for Technology and Society at the Fundação Getúlio Vargas School of Law (who will appear via live stream), will be joined by technology law expert Michael Geist, from the University of Ottawa, to debate the issues as they relate to Canada and the world. [emphases mine]

You can to this page to register for the live event or click through to the livestreaming website.

Canada’s Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages declares opponents to Copyright bill are “extremists”

This is just too juicy to resist. Could I please get on to a list of  ‘radical extremists’ as per James Moore’s recent comments?

By the way, it was a shock to realize that Moore, Canada’s Minister of Canadian Heritage and Official Languages is from my neck of the woods. He represents Port Moody—Coquitlam—Port Coquitlam in BC, just a few miles away from Vancouver.

Moore’s declaration is one of the latest developments in the public discussion about the current bill on copyright (C-32).  From Mike Masnick’s article on Techdirt,

The recent story about Canadian Heritage Minister James Moore lashing out at his critics over the Canadian version of the DMCA (C-32) and calling them “radical extremists” has been getting an awful lot of attention, including condemnation from other elected officials. However, Moore’s response has been anything but comforting. He apparently denied saying those words in a correspondence with Michael Geist, but it didn’t take long for some video to surface that not only shows him saying that, but many other nasty things about anyone who dares criticize the bill …

You’ll find the video evidence of Moore’s comment after that paragraph. It’s not easy to hear as he seems to be mumbling his speech but he definitely makes the statement. Making this even an even better experience, it looks like someone is trying to cover it up. From Michael Geist‘s blog,

Almost lost amidst the considerable outrage from many people over Moore’s comments, was the possibility that there was an attempt to bury the “radical extremist” comment. The initial video posted by event organizers (the Chamber of Commerce’s IP Council) did not include a clip of the reference to radical extremists. Sun Media ran a story that included the quote but others seemed to act as if it never happened.

By mid-morning yesterday, attendees were not confirming the comment, Moore was denying it, and the event video did not include it. That might have been the end of the story, but IT World Canada reporter Brian Jackson compiled his own video of the event and posted it online. [emphases mine] The Jackson video included the reference and made it clear that Moore was not being forthright in his private claims (the event organizer site later added the same video). The lack of candor is rather rich given that Moore’s comments tried to paint critics of the bill as misleading the public.

I hope Moore will apologize for lying about having called opponents to his copyright bill ‘radical extremists’. I can understand that people sometimes let their frustrations run away from them and they say things they wouldn’t ordinarily. Unlike politicians though, I’m not likely to be recorded by anyone when my mouth runs away from me. By that token, my words don’t have the same impact either and that’s part of Moore’s problem. He doesn’t seem to understand the power that language has. Using an inflammatory phrase such as ‘radical extremists’ to characterize critics and opponents to a copyright bill before the House of Commons debases the term. By simultaneously linking individuals who use violence to achieve their ends (the usual application for the term ‘radical extremists’) to individuals who are debating, discussing, and writing commentaries critical of your political aims you render the term into a joke and you minimize the violence associated with it.

I can even understand if Moore denied saying it because he didn’t remember it that way. Memory can be pretty flexible. It’s the attempt to cover it up (Geist includes copies of Moore’s repeated twitter denials) that sticks in my throat and brands the man a liar.

Note: I have discussed the new bill C-32 in this previous posting.

Canada’s new copyright bill being introduced June 3, 2010 (we think), NFB, RIP!, and student copyright video

Last week’s handy dandy National Film Board (NFB) newsletter directed me to their blog post about copyright, documentary filmmaking guidelines, and the video, RIP!  From Julie Martin’s May 19, 2010 posting,

The Documentary Organization of Canada (DOC) released a set of guidelines last week that help filmmakers make sense of how to use copyrighted materials in their films. The Guidelines draw on existing fair dealing provisions set out in the Copyright Act.

In addition to finding out more about the guidelines, you can also access, embedded in the posting, a related  NFB documentary RIP! A Remix Manifesto by Brett Gaylor (approx. 85 mins.), if you follow the link.

Meanwhile,  Michael Geist offers two postings of interest, one about a student-produced video (he offers the English language version and a link to the French language version) calling for fair copyright. In his second posting, Geist offers information about the government’s new bill which is to be introduced (according to reports) this Thursday, June 3, 2010. From the posting,

This is copyright week in Canada as multiple reports indicate that the long-awaited copyright bill will be tabled on Thursday. The recent round of reports are noteworthy for several reasons. First, they confirm earlier reports that the government plans to introduce DMCA-style anti-circumvention legislation.

There’s more including possible changes to fair use and the suspicion that the government may try to fast track the legislation by holding summer hearings.

Science policy, innovation and more on the Canadian 2010 federal budget; free access in the true north; no nano for Van Gogh’s The Bedroom; frogs, foam and biofuels

There are more comments about Canada’s 2010 federal budget on the Canadian Science Policy Centre website along with listings of relevant news articles which they update regularly. There’s also a federal budget topic in the forums section but it doesn’t seem have attracted much commentary yet.

The folks at The Black Hole blog offer some pointed commentary with regard to the budget’s treatment of post doctorate graduates. If I understand the comments correctly, the budget has clarified the matter of taxation, i. e., post doctoral grants are taxable income, which means that people who were getting a break on taxes are now losing part of their income. The government has also created a new class of $70,000 post doctoral grants but this will account for only 140 fellowships. With some 6000 post doctoral fellows this means only 2% of the current pool of applicants will receive these awards. Do read The Black Hole post as they clarify what this means in very practical terms.

There’s been another discussion outcome from the 2010 budget, a renewed interest in innovation. I’m kicking off my ‘innovation curation efforts’ with this from an editorial piece by Carol Goar in the Toronto Star,

Five Canadian finance ministers have tried to crack the productivity puzzle. All failed. Now Jim Flaherty is taking a stab at it.

Here is the conundrum: We don’t use our brainpower to create new wealth. We have a highly educated population, generous tax incentives for research and development and lower corporate tax rates than any leading economic power. Yet our businesses remain reluctant to invest in new products and technologies (with a few honourable exceptions such as Research in Motion, Bombardier and Magna). They don’t even capitalize on the exciting discoveries made in our universities and government laboratories.

Economists are starting to ask what’s wrong. Canada ranked 14th in business spending on research and development – behind all the world’s leading industrial powers and even smaller nations such as Belgium and Ireland – in the latest statistical roundup by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

I believe she’s referring to the 2009 OECD scorecard in that last bit (you can find the Canada highlights here).

There are many parts to this puzzle about why Canadians and their companies are not innovative.  Getting back to Goar’s piece,

Kevin Lynch, who served as Stephen Harper’s top adviser from 2006 to 2009 [and is now the vice-chair of the Bank of Montreal Financial Group], has just written an article in Policy Options, an influential magazine, laying the blame squarely on corporate Canada. He argues that, unless business leaders do their part, it makes little sense to go on spending billions of dollars on research and development. “In an era of fiscal constraint, there has to be a compelling narrative to justify new public investments when other areas are being constrained,” he says.

Here’s a possible puzzle piece, in yesterday’s (March 15, 2010) posting I noted a study by academic, Mary J. Benner, where she pointed out that securities analysts do not reward/encourage established US companies such as Polaroid (now defunct) and Kodak to adopt new technologies. I would imagine that the same situation exists here in Canada.

For another puzzle piece: I’ve made mention of the mentality that a lot of entrepreneurs (especially in Canadian high tech) have and see confirmation  in a Globe and Mail article by Simon Avery about the continuing impact of the 2000 dot com meltdown where he investigates some of the issues with venture capital and investment as well as this,

“It’s a little bit about getting into the culture of winning, like the Olympics we just had,” says Ungad Chadda, senior vice-president of the Toronto Stock Exchange. “I don’t think the technology entrepreneurs around here are encouraged and supported to think beyond the $250-million cheque that a U.S. company can give them.”

One last comment from  Kevin Lynch (mentioned in the second of the Goar excerpts) about innovation and Canada from his recent opinion piece in the Globe and Mail,

A broader public dialogue is essential. We need to make the question “What would it take for Canada to be an innovative economy for the 21st century?” part of our public narrative – partly because our innovation deficit is a threat to our competitiveness and living standards, and partly because we can be a world leader in innovation. We should aspire to be a nation of innovators. We should rebrand Canada as technologically savvy, entrepreneurial and creative.

Yes, Mr. Lynch a broader dialogue would be delightful but there does seem to be an extraordinary indifference to the notion from many quarters. Do I seem jaundiced? Well, maybe that’s because I’ve been trying to get some interest in having a Canadian science policy debate and not getting very far with it. In principle, people call for more dialogue but that requires some effort to organize and a willingness to actually participate.

(As for “rebranding”, is anyone else tired of hearing that word or its cousin branding?)

On a completely other note, the University of Ottawa has announced that it is supporting open access to its faculty’s papers with institutional funding. From the news release,

According to Leslie Weir, U of Ottawa’s chief librarian, the program encompasses several elements, including a new Open Access (or OA) repository for peer-reviewed papers and other “learning objects”; an “author fund” for U of Ottawa researchers to help them cover open-access fees charged by journal publishers; a $50,000-a-year budget to digitize course materials and make them available to anyone through the repository; and support for the University of Ottawa Press’s OA journals.

But the university stopped short of requiring faculty members to deposit their papers with the new repository. “We all agreed that incentives and encouragement was the best way to go,” said Ms. Weir, who worked on the program with an internal group of backers, including Michael Geist, professor of intellectual property law, and Claire Kendall, a professor in the faculty of medicine who has been active in OA medical journals.

There is some criticism of the decision to make the programme voluntary. Having noticed the lack of success that voluntary reporting of nanomaterials has had, I’m inclined to agree with the critics. (Thanks to Pasco Phronesis for pointing me to the item.)

If you’ve ever been interested in art restoration (how do they clean and return the colours of an old painting to its original hues?, then the Van Gogh blog is for you. A member of the restoration team is blogging each step of The Bedroom’s (a famous Van Gogh painting) restoration. I was a little surprised that they don’t seem to be using any of the new nano-enabled techniques for examining the painting or doing the restoration work.

Given the name for this website, I have to mention the work done with frogs in pursuit of developing new biofuels by scientists at the University of Cincinnati. From the news item on Nanotechnology Now,

In natural photosynthesis, plants take in solar energy and carbon dioxide and then convert it to oxygen and sugars. The oxygen is released to the air and the sugars are dispersed throughout the plant — like that sweet corn we look for in the summer. Unfortunately, the allocation of light energy into products we use is not as efficient as we would like. Now engineering researchers at the University of Cincinnati are doing something about that.

The researchers are finding ways to take energy from the sun and carbon from the air to create new forms of biofuels, thanks to a semi-tropical frog species [Tungara frog].

Their work focused on making a new artificial photosynthetic material which uses plant, bacterial, frog and fungal enzymes, trapped within a foam housing, to produce sugars from sunlight and carbon dioxide.

Here’s an illustration of the frog by Megan Gundrum, 5th year DAAP student (I tried find out what DAAP stands for but was unsuccessful, ETA: Mar.31.10, it is the Design, art, and architecture program at the University of Cincinnati),

illustration by Megan Gundrum, 5th year DAAP student

Thank you to the University of Cincinnati for making the image available.

Off the deep end: an interview with Cheryl Geisler (part 3 of 3)

Today is the last of the series on Cheryl Geisler and the new Faculty of Communication, Art and Technology (FCAT) at Simon Fraser University (Burnby, Vancouver, Surrey, Canada):

In addition to factors such as the global economy and faculty politics (used not pejoratively but in its most general sense), Geisler and her colleagues have to contend with an increasing emphasis from the tri-council funding agencies (Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council [SSHRC], Canadian Institutes of Health Research [CIHR], and Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council [NSERC]) on open-access to research and on proving to the public that the funded research has value.

From the recent Conference Board of Canada report on trademarks, patents, and copyright, Intellectual Property in the 21st Century by Ruth Corbin (as quoted by Michael Geist on his blog here),

In discussing the tabling of a new copyright bill, it notes:

Simultaneous support for “open-access” initiatives, where appropriate – such as facilitation of the use of government data with suitable safeguards, and readier access to publicly funded research – would help to unlock tremendous stores of knowledge and balance out the resources being expended on protection of rights.

From the SSHRC report, Framing our Direction, here,

Systematic evidence about the multiple short and long-term benefits of research in the social sciences and humanities will provide a solid foundation for decisions about levels of investment. In other words, our ability to enhance research activities is closely linked with our collective efforts to demonstrate the impact and value of social sciences and humanities research to society. For this reason, we will update our programs and policies to include a more complete accounting of research results. (final para. on p. 12 in print version, p. 14 on PDF)

The SSHRC report makes it quite clear that the quantity of funding it receives is liable to be affected by how the agency and its grant recipients are able to “[demonstrate] the impact and value of social science and humanities research to society.” No doubt the other members of the tri-Council are feeling the same pressures.

In responding to a question about how FCAT will make its research more easily accessible, Geisler drew on her experience as the head of the Language, Literature and Communication Department at Rensselaear, the oldest technological university in the US. “There certainly was the desire at the National Science Foundation and other federal programmes in the US for research to be more widely disseminated and to try to incorporate outreach activities and for the same reasons [as here in Canada].

For example, the School of Contemporary Arts will move into Woodward’s [Downtown Eastside] in the fall [2010] so now we’re planning for how we will partner with the community, what kinds of non-credit programmes we’ll offer, and [the] residencies [we’ll offer] for artists in the community. We also have 3 or 4 faculty members that work with policy leaders in the area of culture to try to understand how to manage cultural resources and growth and make them a greater social benefit.” She also pointed out that there are plans to situate the Surrey City Hall near SIAT as part of an initiative to create a new city centre in that municipality. All of this is in stark contrast with SFU’s main campus, built in 1965, and situated on a mountain top.

Regardless of its mountain top status, SFU has long made an effort to reach out to its various communities through its non-credit continuing studies programmes in Vancouver at Harbour Centre, the programmes at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue, and its longstanding presence in the Downtown Eastside through various School of the Contemporary Arts courses (Note: The school is slated to make a wholsale move into the area, Fall 2010). Unfortunately, many of these efforts fall short of reaching any community that is not in some way affiliated with the university

Geisler acknowledges that more could be done, “You have to give the public ways to option in, or to find out things or to give more clear access. That’s a good problem to work on.”

As for why she came to SFU, “I’ve always done interdisciplinary work and I led a department that had many of the same components that I saw here. In a way, I thought this was the perfect next step for me. There was no other department like mine and there’s no other faculty like [this one]. I had a sense that at FCAT there was a lot of potential and desire to interact across disciplinary boundaries and do exciting new work and I thought that’s [what] I would want to lead.”

The next and last question begged to be asked. Do you have any dreams, any fantasies about where it [FCAT] might go?

“What people do is very interdisciplinary in the sciences, in art practice, and in design practice but the academic structure is much more reified and rigid so that students’ curricular experience often doesn’t mirror what’s going on in professional practice and in knowledge generation. Also, I think one of the consequences [of curricular rigidity] is that the public is often alienated from the university because it’s cut off from what makes academics excited.

There’s a real potential for creating new processes and faculty structures that can be responsive and be reflective of more problem-based or opportunity-based alignments [that exist] for a few years to get [a] project done. [As opposed to] ‘we all do biology here and we always do it; and a hundred years from now there’s going to be a biology dept. Departments are structured ‘as if they will always be there’ because they reflect the way the world is. I’d like to see a more exciting, project-based [approach]. I don’t know exactly how to do that but I thought this would be a place to figure [it] out.”

Thank you to Dr. Geisler for the insights and your time.

Off the deep end: an interview with Cheryl Geisler Introduction, Part 1, Part 2

Happy Weekend!

15th Century painting techniques and nanotechnology; Conference Board of Canada and copyright; Real Vancouver Writers; Better Living

Kate Nichols is a fellow at TED. She is also a painter who trained in 15th century techniques. From the article by Kristen Philipkoski on Boing, Boing,

Nichols learned painting as painters did in 15th century Flanders: by apprenticing under a master and learning to make her own paints. She became skilled at creating the type of complex colors only possible as light travels through thin layers of oil glaze. But she eventually found that no amount of layering could recreate the complexity she saw in the Morpho butterfly’s wings. [I previously posted about nanotech and the colour of butterfly wings here.]

As Philipkoski goes on to recount, the desire to recreate the colours of a Morpho butterfly’s wings is what led her to working with nanotechnology but, first, working with mathematician, Judy Holdener, she learned why she couldn’t recreate those colours with her traditional techniques. Nichols eventually contacted someone at a nanotech laboratory in her pursuit and went on to become the first artist-in-residence at that lab (the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley). (You can see images of her work at the article on the Boing Boing site.)

More recently she was awarded the TED fellowship I’ve already mentioned. TED stands for Technology Entertainment Design and it started out as an annual conference. You can find out more about TED here and more about this year’s annual conference here. As for the fellowship, it sounds a bit like a mentoring programme but you can read the description for yourself here.

One last quote from the article,

“I love thinking about plasmon resonance–likely, because I paint motion and grew up dancing,” Nichols said. When light comes into contact with a metal, electrons are displaced. Because the electrons are attracted to the nuclei of the metallic atoms, the electrons fall back into their original positions only to be exiled again, over and over. This oscillatory dance is called a plasmon and we perceived it as color when the wavelength falls within the visible spectrum.

On the copyright (intellectual property) front, Michael Geist is commenting on the latest Conference Board of Canada’s report. As you may recall, the Conference Board was embarrassed last year when it released a report that had large chunks plagiarized from a US lobby group’s materials. You can read more about the contretemps here on Techdirt and Geist’s comments here. From Geist’s blog,

The new report, which weighs in at 113 pages, was completed by Ruth Corbin, a Toronto-based IP expert. Corbin started from scratch, reading a broad range of materials, conducting interviews, and leading a private roundtable on the issue (I participated in the roundtable and met separately with her). While there is much to digest, the lead takeaway is to marvel at the difference between a report cribbed from lobby speaking points and one that attempts to dig into the issues in a more balanced fashion. Three examples:

First, the report puts intellectual property policy into perspective as just one portion of the innovation agenda, noting that over-protection can be lead to diminishing returns…

W2 Community Media House (in Vancouver, Canada) is hosting a writer’s series that has two more weeks to go. The next event is Feb. 17, 2010.

This description from Heather Haley (poet) highlights a couple of radio interviews and her upcoming Real Vancouver Writers appearance,

Real Vancouver Writers Series at the W2 Culture and Media House
Located across from the refurbished Woodwards Building in Downtown Vancouver
Wednesday, February 17, 2010
7:00pm – 10:00pm
112 E. Hastings
“Poet, author, musician and media artist Heather Susan Haley pushes boundaries by creatively integrating disciplines, genres and media. Published in numerous journals and anthologies, her poetry collections Sideways (Anvil Press) and Three Blocks West of Wonderland (Ekstasis Editions) have been described as ³supple and unusual” and ³brawny and uncompromising.² She was an editor for the LA Weekly, publisher of Rattler and the Edgewise Cafe, one of Canada’s first electronic literary magazines. Architect of the Edgewise ElectroLit Centre, the Vancouver Videopoem Festival and SEE THE VOICE: Visible Verse at Pacific Cinémathèque, her works have been official selections at dozens of international film festivals. Haley has gained renown as an engaging performer, sharing her poetry and music with audiences around the world. Most recently she toured eastern Canada and the U.S. in support of her critically acclaimed AURAL Heather CD of spoken word songs, Princess Nut.”
She will be appearing with Teresa McWhirter, Lee Henderson, Elizabeth Bachinsky, Nikki Reimer, Chris Hutchinson, Dina Del Bucchia, Amber Dawn, Donato Mancini, Sonnet L¹Abbe, Jonathon Wilcke and Catherine Owen.
RADIO APPEARANCES:
Heather will be live in ‘The Artist Lounge’ hosted by J Peachy on CJSF 90.1 FM on Tuesday Feb 16th at 7pm. Hope you can tune in, its also online at http://wwwcjsf.ca. The next day, the day of the reading, Wed. Feb. 17 Heather will be visiting friends Steve Duncan and RC Weslowki on Wax Poetic @ 2pm (PST) 102.7fm CFRO Co-op Radio, http://www.coopradio.org/. *See* you there!

I like to feature more about the arts and new media on Fridays or, at least, to have something amusing here. Today, I’ve managed both now that I’ve come to this item by Alissa Walker in Fast Company ,

Who knew that paper clips and staples could teach such smart life lessons? Everyday objects you might find at your desk are the stars in Hints for Better Living , a short film by Los Angeles-based designer Mike Afsa, who also does work for companies like Chiat\Day and Quiksilver.

It’s charming and it gave me a whole new perspective on paper clips and staples. Happy Weekend!