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To the editor:
Your April 6 issue contained an op-ed piece by Professor Sanctuary entitled "OTT and the marketing of our intellectual property." The piece is highly critical of Martinex Inc. and OTT, and takes a swipe at the proposal for a new Policy on Intellectual Property. In fact, about two thirds of the article is about Martinex; I have nothing to say about Martinex, since it is an arm's length corporation over which the University has no management authority.
As for OTT, it is clear that OTT made a mistake in losing track of the royalty payments due to Professor Sanctuary. I cannot assert that OTT has never made other mistakes; indeed, since the error seems to have occurred at the time when both the director and the administrator were changed, it is possible that other royalties slipped between the cracks at that time. Nor can I guarantee that OTT will never again make a mistake.
The story from our end, however, is different in one respect from that told by Professor Sanctuary. An error in data entry was made in 1997, which caused our system to show the royalty as having been paid. The error was found when OTT attempted to reconcile their accounts with data from Special Funds, at which point the office called Prof Sanctuary to inform him; OTT acted pro-actively when the mistake was uncovered, and sent a cheque for the missing amount. There was indeed some discussion about the proper level of interest on the amount owed, where, in the end, we agreed upon with Professor Sanctuary. It was an honest mistake, and we shall make sure that at least this type of error does not recur.
Where I must take issue with Professor Sanctuary is that he used the incident to argue OTT's general incompetence. Impressions die hard and it is true that OTT's services in the past were not always satisfactory to some. In defence of those who were in place at the time, I point out that an office of four professionals, such as OTT was five years ago, cannot offer the same services as an office of 20, such as existed at UBC and the University of Alberta. But let me paint today's picture of OTT. OTT's budget for the coming year is slightly under $1.3 million, of which $329k come from University operating funds: $300k of base, plus $29k of merit. This is less than the current year's base funds by $60k; that was a deliberate decision on my part, based on the principle that OTT should live off the results of its efforts. OTT derives the rest of its budget from: a share (about 4%) of the recovered indirect costs from contracts, a share (11%) of the royalties, a grant from NSERC under its Intellectual Property Management Program, some funds from the Martlet Research Trust, and contributions from three deans, one hospital institute and the VP(Systems and Technology) for shared costs such as OTT agents in their faculties/hospitals. In addition, OTT has arranged to have two agents from NRC's IRAP program, one on each of our two campuses, to help with the liaison with small companies.
In return, OTT generated last year more than $2 million of overhead recoveries, spun off eight new companies and generated about $400k of royalties. Some of our spin-off companies have "gone public" and a few more will soon do so. We can reasonably expect significant returns from the sale of equity in the near future. To the extent that the largest share of the overheads and of the net income from inventions (excluding the inventors' shares) goes to the administration, with some to Graduate Faculty, the returns generated by OTT benefit the whole university.
Far from being the incompetent operation that Professor Sanctuary seems to think it is, OTT has become a highly professional operation — as many would testify who have done business with them in the recent past. With the soon-to-be-created commercialization company (with our partners at Sherbrooke and Bishop's), we shall add an arm's length organization that will work with OTT and have the resources to do professional evaluations of our technologies, invest seed funds into projects close to commercialization, and put together the financing for spin-off companies.
It will at the same time channel funds into OTT for expansion in its program of on-site agents and liaison. In fact, at this time, the new agent in the Faculty of Engineering is working on two new NSERC chairs for the faculty; I include this to show that, with the right resources, OTT can do much more than it has traditionally done.
In his final paragraph, Professor Sanctuary takes a swipe at the proposal for a new policy on intellectual property. First, he presents an adversarial description of the relations between the University and its academic staff: us vs. them, a win-lose proposal. It is my belief that the objective of any policy should be the greater good of our University and that includes everybody: students, staff, those who stand to profit from inventions and those who do not. Salaries and most of our research funding are from the public purse; I assume that everyone would agree that, should there be direct income returned by those expenditures, a fair share should go towards support of those publicly funded teaching and research activities. What the sharing arrangement between those who invent and their University colleagues should be is not a matter of us vs. them, but of finding a reasonable balance. And I really take exception to Professor Sanctuary's statement that "the University is clearly attempting to impose" a new policy.
This policy has been discussed since last May, with several versions appearing on the web during that time. It has been discussed at MAUT, in some faculties, twice at senate and at Graduate Faculty. Senate appointed a committee to help with the draft, a process that has caused a number of significant changes to be included. In fact, a colleague who is by any measure a senate veteran stated in a response to a colleague that, while he too had reservations about the proposal (an earlier version), he had never seen a policy handled with as much transparency at McGill.
Finally, I think that, as a matter of fairness and common courtesy, and given the rather inflammatory nature of the piece, I or the Director of OTT, Alex Navarre, should have been given the opportunity to answer in the same issue as Professor Sanctuary's piece.
Pierre R. Belanger
Dean and Vice-Principal (Research)
Editor's response: Under normal circumstances, I might have have solicited a response but I received the piece too close to our publication time to do so. Given the diversity of views concerning intellectual property and the fact that on May first, senate votes on a proposed policy on intellectual property, I decided it was important to stimulate some exchange in the Reporter.
To the editor:
I read with interest the op-ed article on "Marketing intellectual property" by Professor Bryan Sanctuary in the last issue of the McGill Reporter.
Since Professor Sanctuary quoted me out of context twice in his article, I feel obliged to set the record straight. The first time he quoted me as saying that his project was too late and all the money (from Martlet R & D fund) had been allocated. I was chair of the Department of Chemistry at that time, and my responsibility was to submit the proposals from colleagues in the department to the Vice-Principal (Research) and transmit the decisions back to the colleagues. As I recall, the policy decision at the V-P (Research) and the Dean of Science levels at that time was to use the Martlet R & D fund to support major projects of team research and Professor Sanctuary's project did not fall into that category. I did not make the decision on the funding of his project or, for that matter, any project.
The second time he quoted me was on the lack of royalties from Martlet. By prefacing his remarks with "while in an official discussion with then Vice-Principal (Academic)," he gave the impression that I was making an official response on this matter. In reality, the subject matter of his discussion with me in my office had little to do with the Martlet (which is not under the V-P (Academic)'s portfolio). The issue was raised tangentially by him and I was trying to understand his philosophy of investment; hence my question ["Why should I expect royalties to be generated?"] to him. It seems to have been lost on Professor Sanctuary that he should know the difference between a question and a response.
T. H. Chan
Professor of Chemistry
To the editor:
The Reporter's article on Nim Chimsky (March 23), the first chimpanzee who learned human sign language, inadvertently raises the question as to why he spent his adult life on Black Beauty Ranch, an animal sanctuary in Texas run by the Fund for Animals (www.fund.org).
As documented in the book Ranch of Dreams by Cleveland Amory (Viking, 1997), Nim was about four years old when Dr. Herbert Terrace of Columbia University ended "Project Nim." By then, Nim had learned over 200 signs, which he used in thousands of combinations, but Terrace decided that chimpanzees could not internalize human language structure. Nim did not sign in a human grammatical way. According to Amory, Terrace felt the project had been a failure.
Nim was born on Nov. 21, 1973, at the Institute for Primate Studies at the University of Oklahoma. When he was four days old, his mother was subdued with a tranquilizing dart so that Nim could be removed and flown to the sign language project in New York.
From the beginning, Nim was put into a strict regimen of having to learn signs to meet his basic needs, including food. Nim did not apparently have contact with other chimps during the research period. Imagine taking a human baby at day four and suddenly forcing it into chimp society, with the idea of determining for the sake of science, whether a human infant can be socialized as a member of another primate species. Since we would consider this totally immoral, why then should not the same be said for forcing a chimp infant into an equally unnatural, human mould?
Stephanie LaFrage, a grad student of Dr. Terrace, who flew Nim to New York and provided him with his first home, later had second thoughts. In a memoir, "From One Mother to Another" (See Ranch of Dreams, pp. 176-179), she describes Nim's loving mother and how she was unaware of what she, as a researcher, was doing to two sentient creatures.
When the project ended, Nim was going to be turned into a medical experimental animal in a New York University hepatitis lab. This is when the Fund for Animals stepped in and convinced Nim's guardians at the U of Oklahoma primate centre to agree to a new home for Nim at Black Beauty, his dedicated community for the rest of his life. (Note: Ranch of Dreams, is being remaindered at the downtown Montreal Indigo store.)
To the editor:
We came, we saw, we were conquered -- by the students, faculty, administrative and support staff (the Bishop Mountain Hall cafeteria staff and the Molson Hall "desk clerk" and maintenance staff were enthusiastic supporters of McGill as a place to attend school and to work).
Molly has chosen to attend McGill this fall -- over three other excellent schools: Mt. Holyoke, Barnard and my alma mater, Fordham. She is very excited about attending McGill and not quite so excited about her parents and younger sister and brother visiting her as often as possible.
I look forward to reading more of your informative, well-written and balanced columns.
Parent of a prospective McGill student who attended the recent Arts Undergraduate Society meeting on the quality of teaching