November 2007

Supply Side

Canadian mining suppliers contribute abundantly to innovation in mining

By J. Baird

Discussions among industry, associations, universities, and government have resulted in a project to form the Canadian Mining Innovation Council (CMIC). With leadership from Natural Resources Canada, the federal, provincial, and territorial ministers of mines endorsed the project at their annual conference in Whistler, British Columbia, on September 24, 2007.

The council will be a consortium of industry, academic, and government leaders whose purpose is to strengthen the competitiveness of the Canadian mining industry by increasing mining research, innovation and commercialization across Canada. Those interested in innovation in mining will soon hear more about this initiative.

The CMIC exercise has shown that while information exists on people working in innovation in the exploration and mining fields in universities, research centres, and mining companies, statistics on these activities among mining supply firms are not available, since they are gathered in ways that are not mining-specific. Further, mining supply firms are expected to carry out much of the commercialization of new technologies, products, and services developed in Canada for mining. Virtually nothing is known of their commercialization capacity.

New government policy in science and technology promises to open the possibility of expanding the networks of centres of excellence to additional sectors. So far, mining has not been accepted for this level of government support. In a new round of applications, we need to be able to show that suppliers are indeed an integral part of the mining innovation chain, active in R&D and commercialization. In this manner, we want to ensure as much supplier participation and benefit as possible.

Thus, CAMESE decided to undertake a survey that would attempt to characterize the innovation and commercialization capabilities of Canadian mining suppliers. The survey was carried out in collaboration with CAMESE member Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, a leading Canadian law firm, and Val Cottrill, a partner in the firm who is a mining engineer, lawyer, and patent agent.

An email message with the two-page, nine-question survey was sent to CAMESE member firms on June 20, 2007. The first few questions asked for the numbers of employees engaged in serving the mining industry, those involved in innovation, and those in marketing and selling (commercialization). The remaining questions focused on the fields of research, relationships, and the use of patents and other types of intellectual property protection.

The survey, which is deemed to be representative of the more than 230 firms that are ‘regular’ members of CAMESE, reveals that the association represents firms employing about 11,600 people who serve the mining industry. Among these are about 1,500 who “work in Canada on the development of new products and technologies for the mining industry, from pure research to production engineering.” Another 1,000 individuals “work on market research, marketing, and selling of products and technologies to be introduced in the future or introduced within the last two years.”

A total of 68 per cent of the respondents have obtained patents or intellectual property registrations. CAMESE member companies are about equally interested in exploration, extraction, and processing, with lesser interest in smelting. The type of research is heavily centred on machines or devices (products), less on processes, and even less on new compositions of matter. With respect to programs and relationships, SR&ED is dominant, followed by IRAP, followed again by agreements with companies, universities, and research institutes.

The report, entitled “Innovation and Commercialization Characteristics of CAMESE Member Mining Supply Firms,” is available here.

Jon Baird
Jon Baird is the managing director for CAMESE.

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