Genome Canada hopes to create patent offices if request for new funding granted
October 3, 2003
Genome Canada plans to establish a series of patent offices to accelerate and add value to intellectual property (IP) being generated by its five affiliated regional genome centres. The offices — contingent upon new funding — are modelled on the patent operations of large pharmaceutical companies and would also bundle technologies to make them more attractive to private sector investors. The concept has been under development over a year and was unanimously accepted last week by Genome Canada’s board of directors and the CEOs of the regional centres. A more detailed proposal will be made to the board in December.
Genome Canada president and CEO Dr Martin Godbout is the driver behind the new proposal, which would see the creation of a series of sector-specific offices staffed by three or four people each. He says these patent offices represent his organization’s response to commercialization and could help to push Canada past France and Germany in the number of US patents filed.
“It’s patent management and we think that could be the best contribution Genome Canada can make to speed commercialization,” says Godbout. “This would be a new service fully funded by Genome Canada. Over the next two years, we would like to develop a bundle of patents and licensed technologies we can negotiate with other laboratories and other partners which we could then offer to venture capital on a golden plate.”
The patent offices also complement the federal government’s current emphasis on commercialization and assist in the commitment by prime minister-in-waiting Paul Martin to place greater emphasis on the commercialization of applied research.
“Number of patents as an indicator for commercialization is very strong. If we foster, encourage and facilitate patent protection over the next three years and become number three in the world…this will demonstrate that Canada is a superpower in genomics,” says Godbout. “If we feed the biotech companies and the investors with more patents, that will put the companies in a better position to compete internationally. And in our small sector of genomics and proteomics, we can contribute to Mr Martin’s ideas and objectives for commercialization.”
SEEKING NEW FUNDING
For the patent offices proposal to be implemented, Genome Canada will have to succeed in securing new federal funding. The current request is for $750 million over five years to extend the organization’s life beyond March 31/05. A request for the same amount was made last year but was not included in the Feb/03 Budget. Rather, Genome Canada received an additional $75 million at that time, for a targeted competition directed towards applied health research. More than 50 applicants out of a field of 84 were invited to submit full applications with a deadline of November 7/03 (see chart below).
Godbout argues that the new investment request is more than justified based on what Genome Canada has accomplished since it began operations in February 2000. With $300 million in funding, it was able to attract $409 million from other (mainly provincial government) sources. That made for a total of $709 million invested in genomics and proteomics after a period when Canada had virtually abandoned the field.
Genome Canada has also been able to strike a number of key agreements with other countries and push ahead in areas that were not being considered at the beginning of its mandate. Godbout asserts that the organization’s hybrid governance structure and flexibility have allowed it to capitalize on opportunities as they emerge.
“We fully delivered what we were expected to do and that doesn’t include what (senior VP) Marc Lepage is doing on corporate development and the international scene,” says Godbout. “For example the $95-million project with the UK and the Wellcome Trust was not planned but due to the flexibility of the organization we were able to react. We saw an opportunity, we went to the board twice in six months and we moved along. There are other projects in the pipeline and thanks to the open mindedness of the board we can use the system we have, the organization we have, to sponsor other initiatives internationally.”