Sunday, March 01, 2015

The REAL Reason our Next Space Agency Head is a Marketing Maven and IP Commercializer

          By Chuck Black

Sylvain Laporte. Photo c/o Industry Canada.
The Friday announcement that Sylvain Laporte, currently the commissioner of patents and registrar of trademarks in the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), will shortly become the next president of the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), suggests a series of obvious conclusions concerning future CSA initiatives.

To begin with, and as outlined on the CIPO website, it's worth noting that Laporte spent the last few years responsible for the administration of regulations surrounding the development and commercialization of Canadian derived intellectual property (IP).

This is a skill-set which past CSA presidents, typically focused on science and the international glad-handing needed to retain access to US continental defence resources and the International Space Station (ISS), have generally not spent many cycles cultivating.

This is mostly because, up until a few years ago, it was quite common for federal government agencies to treat technology developed through government programs as government property which they would refuse to release to the private sector, a process which violated long-standing federal regulations.

The June 10th, 2011 post, "Federal Government Improperly Hoarding Patents," discussed then auditor general Sheila Fraser's report on this practice. The October 10th, 2010 post "Overnight Success Plus IP Rights," discussed how unusual it was, even as recently as four years ago, for a CSA contractor to retain IP developed through CSA contracts.

But the CIPO mandate does dovetail well with the traditional mandate of Industry Canada (IC), the government department to which CIPO and CSA both belong. As outlined on the 2012-2013 archived IC website, the IC mission "is to foster a growing, competitive, knowledge-based Canadian economy."

As outlined in the July 12th, 2012 Managing Intellectual Property article, "Sylvain Laporte, Canadian Intellectual Property Office; Inventors, Not IP Agents," his goal at CIPO was to make Canadian companies more competitive by using intellectual property to leverage innovation "and to better understand the innovator."

CIPO and CSA are both governed by IC policies on science and technology (S&T) such as the May 2007 Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage Report and the June 2009 follow-up Mobilizing Science and Technology to Canada’s Advantage Progress Report. These policies generally advocate turning over intellectual property developed through government programs to the private sector for commercialization.

The official portal for commercializing technology developed under CSA programs is the CSA technology transfer portal.  According to the website, this is where "business and research interests can be joined with CSA technology transfer experts and excellent licensing opportunities." Graphic c/o CSA technology transfer portal. 

Laporte also possesses substantive expertise in other IC departments focused on IP and commercialization activities. As outlined in the March 11th, 2011 IC press release, "Sylvain Laporte Appointed to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office," these include stints as executive director of the Industrial Technologies Office (ITO), manager of the Strategic Aerospace and Defence Initiative (SADI) and other projects under Technology Partnerships Canada (TPC) such as the Hydrogen Early Adopters Program (HEAP) and the Program for Strategic Industrial Projects (PSIP).

Given this background, a fair assumption is that the new space agency head will focus far more on commercialization and the farming out of IP derived from space agency activities to private industry and far less on scientific and international initiatives.

A recent example of this would be the February 27th, 2015 Edmonton Sun article, "Gateway Energy Services partners with new technology company," which discussed the private partnership developed by New York based Gateway Energy Services and Edmonton, AB based Synodon, in order to commercialize IP developed by the CSA in the 1990's but only recently passed along to the private sector.

Of course, it's also worth noting that the new CSA president is a career government employee with established loyalty, a background in marketing and contacts in the military.

Before joining IC, Laporte spent time at the Canada Post Corporation, where he occupied a number of director-level positions in logistics, retail merchandising, marketing and information technology. Laporte has also worked at National Defence in Ottawa and across Canada on a variety of programs.

Laporte is, in essence, the government equivalency of a "company man," with long-term loyalty to IC instead of CSA and all the political advantages and disadvantages that go with that role. The government is essentially hoping that, unlike former CSA president Walt Natynczyk and several of his predecessors, the newest CSA president will enjoy a good long run at the job and insure that no CSA activities ever lead to public embarrassment during question period.

Career bureaucrats with developed contacts within the government have traditionally performed more effectively in this role than retired astronauts (think William MacDonald "Mac" Evans and Larkin Kerwin as compared to Steve MacLean or Marc Garneau).

But it's also worth noting that, as outlined in the February 10th, 2010 post, "Who Was Larry Boisvert?" even the currently almost totally forgotten fifth head of the CSA, was once considered a "keeper.

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