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Canadian businesses struggle to turn bright ideas into money makers: report


June 28, 2011
By By Steve Rennie The Canadian Press

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Canadians are a talented bunch with a lot of bright ideas – but we struggle to cash in on those ideas. That’s the conclusion of a new report by an advisory body to the federal government on science and technology matters.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Council’s report found that Canadian businesses don’t spend nearly as much on research and development (R&D) as other countries. And that could affect Canada’s ability to turn ideas into products and services that can be sold globally.

“An excellent talent pool and increased efforts by government, higher education and some industries are not preventing stagnation in Canada’s overall innovation performance,” the report says. “Despite an overall economic performance the past two years that has exceeded that of its major trading partners, the current level of effort by all performing sectors has not been sufficient to bring Canada’s expenditures in R&D to the G7 average.”

First, the good news. The study found Canada ranks No. 1 in the group of seven industrialized nations – which also includes France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States – when it comes to the percentage of gross domestic product spent on research and development in colleges, universities and affiliated teaching hospitals.

The study also found Canada is a top choice of skilled immigrants and top-ranked foreign students. And Canadian students are also better at reading, math and science than students in most other countries.

But all those bright students are churning out brilliant ideas that can’t seem to get off campus. The report found Canadian businesses are pouring money into university R&D, but they’re having trouble getting those products and services to market.

“Transferring knowledge from research institutions in universities and government to the marketplace, and building a culture of innovation in business remain paths requiring attention.”

Canadian businesses lag behind those in the United States in spending on machinery, equipment and communication technologies, the report says. But firms in Canada outspend their U.S. counterparts in the oil and gas extraction, finance, insurance and real estate industries.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed the council in 2007 to gather statistics about R&D in Canada to compare against other countries. The data is updated every two years to see if Canada is progressing.