Jeffrey Doyle: Technology Commercialization at CRC

By whatever standard one wishes to apply to commercialization in publicly funded laboratories, the Communications Research Centre has always rated very highly. The reasons for that go back to the very origins of the laboratory. CRC evolved out of the Defence Research Telecommunications Establishment (DRTE) in the early seventies and it had evolved out of the amalgamation  of two laboratories which were operated by the Defence Research Board, namely  a Radio Propagation Laboratory (RPL) and an Electronics Laboratory (EL). They were involved in studies related to how radio communications are affected by the ionosphere, the shell of electrons and electrically charged atoms and molecules that surround the earth. The ionosphere proved to be of great interest to Canada during the second world war because there were no satellites at the time and the Canadian military had to rely completely on what is referred to as short wave communications (frequencies below about 30 megahertz) to communicate across the Atlantic Ocean.

DRTE played a major role in the design and development of ionospheric sounders, which were instruments about the size of a kitchen stove that told scientists how communications might be affected at different frequencies. The DRTE scientists worked with two different Canadian-based companies in the design and manufacture of such instruments and they both went on to expand into other markets. For example, Nautel  is a Nova Scotia- based company that was founded by an engineer from one of those sounder companies; it is now a dominant player in the FM  transmitter market.

The CRC scientists and their managers enjoyed working with these suppliers and a “culture of commercialization” evolved in which they could visualize quickly what types of products and services might be developed from their research. It was that culture which resulted in the formation of Mobile Data International (MDI) as a spinoff from Macdonald Detweiler  Associates (MDA)  in the early eighties. A team of researchers at CRC had developed a unique package of hardware and software technology that they felt could lead to reliable data communications products that could be used by police forces and courier companies. They took the time to understand the functionality that was required by such users and entered into a contract with MDA to develop such systems. At the recommendation of MDA senior management, the technology was transferred to a new company that would develop the necessary expertise in high volume manufacturing and distribution to address the markets properly.

Over the years, CRC management has shown a keen interest in developing metrics that could be used to quantify the impact of such commercialization activities. They have concluded that the most important metrics are the jobs and taxes that such activities generate in the companies that have been impacted by such interaction. For example, based on the assumption that MDI would not have been formed without the CRC technology (and the contract negotiations), the impact studies that have been carried out give credit to CRC for all of the jobs and taxes that MDI produced over the years. Credit is also claimed for all of the jobs and taxes generated by companies that have spun out of MDI.

In addition to such spinoff activity, CRC has entered into licensing agreements and research contracts with companies that wish to use its technology to supply new products and services or improve their operational efficiency. Because CRC actively pursues such arrangements and because the licensing revenue is usually tied to the sales of products and services, such revenue figures can be used as an indicator of incremental  jobs and taxes.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.