ARCHIVED - Open innovation -- Key to partnership success

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June 08, 2008— Ottawa, Ontario

Since the Xerox Corporation launched the office copying revolution in 1959, Xerox Canada has been one of our nation's most prolific technology innovators – leading the world in colour science, computing, novel materials, and other areas of printing and document management. So what did Xerox have to gain from partnering with the NRC National Institute for Nanotechnology (NINT)?

Call it the nanotech advantage.

"At Xerox, we discovered the power of nanotechnology when – not long ago – we developed a revolutionary new toner called EA (emulsion aggregation) toner for copying and printing," says Dr. Hadi Mahabadi, Vice President of the Xerox Research Centre of Canada (XRCC). "Although we had already brought this nanotech-based toner to market before we began talking with NRC, our success convinced us we had far more to learn about putting nanotechnology to work."

XRCC is Xerox's materials research centre. It focuses on the design, development and characterization of advanced materials that support higher-quality and lower-cost printed documents that are also environmentally sound. Although XRCC has considerable R&D capacity, it wanted to leverage NRC's unparalleled scientific expertise and capabilities to explore new applications of nanotechnology.

"We have a lot to offer," says Dr. Nils Petersen, Director General of NINT. "Xerox now has access to our high-end electron microscopes, advanced modelling capabilities, and structural analysis tools. As an NRC institute, we have invested about $40 million in equipment for characterizing and analyzing nanostructures, plus we have the people to run this equipment."

It's been just over a year since the partners announced their collaboration. Dr. Mahabadi and Dr. Petersen are jointly managing this endeavour, and both are convinced of the benefits flowing both ways.

"It's the first time that a major corporation has agreed to open up its core R&D business to us or any other third-party research organization," says Dr. Petersen. "Xerox and NRC both stand to gain."

Dr. Mahabadi agrees. "In industry, we call this 'open innovation.' Rather than relying only on internal R&D expertise and capabilities, we partner with an organization like NINT that has a complementary capability. A partnership like this one means less R&D cost and risk for Xerox, as long as our intellectual property (IP) is protected."

Dr. Hadi Mahabadi, Vice-President, Xerox Research Centre of Canada (left) and Dr. Nils Petersen, Director General, NRC National Institute for Nanotechnology, jointly lead the open-innovation research partnership.
Dr. Hadi Mahabadi, Vice-President, Xerox Research Centre of Canada (left) and Dr. Nils Petersen, Director General, NRC National Institute for Nanotechnology, jointly lead the open-innovation research partnership.

For both parties, the protection of IP is of utmost concern. "At the outset, both parties had to define their fields of use and specify that the IP generated in each of these fields would belong to the party claiming that field of use," says Dr. Petersen. "We also established a secure communication protocol to ensure that both parties shared only the scientific information the other party needed for their defined fields of use."

In Canada's first major public-private nanotechnology research partnership, the Xerox Research Centre of Canada, the NRC National Institute for Nanotechnology, and Alberta Advanced Education and Technology are providing approximately $4.5 million for research and development of materials-based nanotechnology from 2007 to 2009.

Dr. Mahabadi reports that they now have eight projects underway: three in materials design, three in materials characterization, and two in modelling and simulation.

XRCC is particularly interested in NRC's fundamental research and modelling and simulation expertise. "Theoretical modelling is an excellent way to reduce the cost of R&D because it helps us determine which experiments are worth conducting," says Dr. Mahabadi. "With a thorough understanding of the properties of materials at the molecular level, we won't spend precious lab time on experiments that won't yield the results we seek."

Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating atoms and molecules, dealing with structures that are measured by the nanometre ― one billionth of a metre. The laws of physics work a bit differently at the nano-scale, which means that materials can display novel characteristics at the molecular level that aren't the same at the macro level. "Thanks to NRC's expertise," adds Dr. Mahabadi, "we can begin to model nano-level processes toward developing novel material properties."

What does NRC get out of this collaboration? Dr. Petersen points to two major benefits. "While much of the work we're doing targets the problems of interest to Xerox, the agreement states that NRC and the University of Alberta can use the same materials developed at NINT for applications that do not fall specifically within the Xerox fields of interest," he explains. Alternative energy is one such field. "We each have exclusive IP rights in specific areas of application, but in all other areas we have joint development rights."

Dr. Petersen also underscores the commercialization expertise that Xerox will share. "Each year, the Xerox Research Centre of Canada files applications for approximately 120 patentable inventions, and commercializes two or three technologies. They know what makes a material viable for product purposes," he notes. "They'll help us develop and understand commercialization routes, which will be invaluable when we need to take a product to market."

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National Research Council of Canada

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