Canada’s federal scientists want contract changes so half of the revenues generated by their inventions and other intellectual property will be plowed back into government research to shore up budgets hit by spending cuts and to attract top talent.
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, which represents more than 15,000 scientists, researchers and engineers, is going to the bargaining table this week with a demand to improve science funding as part of its negotiating strategy for 2,300 researchers working in the science-based departments and agencies.
The proposal would put more money into research programs by re-investing at least 50% of the proceeds generated by inventions, patents, copyright royalties and other intellectual property, rather than going into general departmental revenues.
The Ebola vaccine now in clinical trials, for example, could potentially generate huge benefits for the Public Health Agency of Canada if successful. Under the union’s proposal, half those revenues would be invested in the research programs at the Winnipeg laboratory where the vaccine was developed.
The union is also proposing the principal investigators or the “inventors” be consulted on where the money should be invested. If the inventors have left government, a department’s joint union-management “consultation team’ could decide.
Treasury Board had an awards policy for “innovators and inventors” that was aimed at encouraging scientists to commercialize their work by letting them share in the proceeds of their discoveries. That policy was rescinded in 2010 and it’s unclear how departments are handling awards and rewarding their inventors.
As part of its proposal, the union wants all departments to annually submit a list of awards given to scientists, as well as the amount of money directed to the departments’ research.
The union will be making the same proposals for employees it represents at the National Research Council when they go to the bargaining table after Christmas. NRC researchers have a long history of inventions, from the black box for aircraft to the pacemaker. In 2012-13, the NRC generated intellectual royalties and fees worth about $8.5-million.
The request is clearly pushing the boundaries of traditional collective bargaining with demands to deal with the ongoing spending cuts in science and “interference” in the integrity of scientific work.
This latest proposal comes on the heels of an unprecedented demand last week calling for contract changes to promote “scientific integrity” in government, including the right of muzzled scientists to speak freely and forbidding political interference in their work.
That’s when the 7,000 members of the union’s applied science and patent examination group presented Treasury Board negotiators with two packages — one for “scientific integrity” and another for professional development of scientists. The union also wants those proposals included in researchers’ contracts.
The Conservatives have made a significant shift to business-driven research which many federal scientists worry is being done at the expense of research that only government will do — particularly the collection of long-term data, enforcement and regulatory science.