20 August 2013

The future of Canadian innovation

It's been quite a summer for Canadian innovation. By this I mean the incipient dissolution of Blackberry, which seems to be headed for a rather uncertain fate. A recent Globe article, If BlackBerry is sold, Canada faces an innovation vacuum, underscores the importance of Blackberry to the Canadian innovation landscape. It also reinforces a point I've made repeatedly - as others have - about Canada's lagging industry R&D spending being one of the main drags on the innovation economy.

A couple of months ago I got a new phone and I chose the Blackberry Z10. By all accounts it's a good product - a tad derivative in its form factor perhaps, but all told a pretty solid and reliable phone. The problem is, as many have pointed out, it is too late. As some tell it, Blackberry missed the concept of user experience and the ecosystem of apps that Apple and Android have encouraged. Regardless, if Blackberry isn't revived it doesn't augur well for Canadian technology companies. Or does it? Perhaps this will reinforce the value of failure and spur others on to greater heights.

The federal government and here in Ontario the provincial government have launched industry innovation vouchers as a way to get industry engaged in R&D. College, polytechnics, even universities now are open for business innovation. This is a good thing. We need to explicitly link the talent, facilities and networks latent in our world leading public R&D institutions to the needs of industry. Some will decry this as the corporatization of education, of meddling with the sanctity of science, of an impending zombie apocalypse. Do not listen to these people, for they fear the future and live in the past. We need good science, unfettered by practical concerns. We also need good science, inextricably linked to practical concerns.

It's time to get past our either|or libertarianism and realize that we do not just have rights on the present, but we have responsibility for the future. I'm optimistic about this future - with or without Blackberry.

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