Making the most of IP is essential to Canada’s global competitiveness

By: Karima Bawa, Strategic Advisor on Intellectual Property, Digital Technology Supercluster

Over the last two decades, the global economic framework has shifted towards the “intangibles economy,” where prosperity is linked to intellectual property, data, design, and brands. This marked shift from the more traditional economic model of tangibles – oil, gas, timber, and manufactured goods – has been well recognized by the markets. Some of the world’s most valuable companies today (think Amazon, Google, Apple and Microsoft) are built around their intangible assets, providing new services at scale, and generating significant revenue.

Despite the successes that companies globally are reaping by leveraging their IP, Canada’s performance has been declining. In 2011, we ranked eighth on the World International Property Organization’s Global Innovation Index, which consolidates data on factors such as the filing of patents, trademarks and industrial designs. Less than a decade later, Canada has slipped to 17th.

This decline is troubling because Canada has fared quite well on factors such as a well-educated workforce and supportive government policies. The challenge in this slippage lies in part due to the fact that Canadian business R&D falls below the OECD average and Canadian companies struggle with protecting and strategically leveraging their intellectual property.

To address this issue, the Government of Canada launched a five-year, $85.3-million national IP strategy in 2018, and has subsequently augmented this with additional IP related funding and services to support SMEs.

Many of these programs are designed to support the development of IP which, while important in helping bridge inherent gaps SMEs typically face, is simply not enough. What is required instead is a more holistic approach to IP and IP strategy and the need for programs that:

  • Demystify IP. SMEs need to understand what IP is and how it is protected and leveraged.
  • Support the development of robust IP portfolios. SMEs need coaching from sophisticated unbiased advisors who can help them explore different forms of IP protection that make the best business sense for them (not just patents).
  • Promote data literacy. SMEs need to understand how to collect and leverage data for commercial benefit by adopting good data governance and stewardship practices.
  • Support the commercialization of university generated IP. Universities are an abundant source of IP that can be commercialized and leveraged but this can only be achieved through encouraging partnerships based on fair and balanced agreements.
  • Promote participation in standards development initiatives. SMEs need to participate in standards setting initiatives to better connect their IP portfolios to the innovation economy.
  • Facilitate the creation of robust ecosystems. SMEs need to find ways to develop rich ecosystems around their products and services by engaging in collaborative development and licensing efforts.

The Digital Technology Supercluster’s advancement of these objectives is resulting in its Members becoming more aware of the IP landscape and consequently developing significant IP assets within their portfolios. Also, Members are working collaboratively with universities to commercialize university generated IP. The Digital Technology Supercluster’s engagement in projects is resulting in Members finding ways to develop and leverage IP portfolios and form large scale partnerships as well as execute on multi-year cross sectoral licensing arrangements.

Recent examples of these Digital Technology Supercluster Member efforts include Patriot One Technologies, who is already seeing that “this new IP, alongside newly formed business relationships, have helped to identify new innovative approaches to security operations” positioning them as “an emerging leader in facility management for sports, gaming, and entertainment industries,” said Peter Evans, Patriot One’s CEO. Another is Molecular You, whose patent protection of their novel technology “strengthens Molecular You’s IP portfolio, which plays a key role in the growth of any SME in terms of attracting and maintaining investor relationships. Negotiating the terms of the patent has reinforced and promoted collaboration between the industry and academic members of our consortium. This collaboration has been a key part of our business strategy,” said Rob Fraser, President and CEO.

Now more than ever it is vital to remain proactive in fostering understanding and awareness of the benefits of IP development and leveraging these learnings to move the needle on Canada’s “innovation output”.

Karima Bawa, recognized in 2020 as one of the most Influential Women in the IP Industry by World IP Review, is the co-author of The Intellectual Property Guide: IP Literacy and Strategy Basics for Supporting Innovation, and a Senior Fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. Karima has extensive experience in strategically developing, managing and leveraging intellectual property and has had the privilege of managing and directing diverse legal functions including serving as the former General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer for BlackBerry as it grew its operations from North America to 175+ countries.