Intellectual Property: Three Promising IP Initiatives Moving Canada Forward

November 14, 2023

By Abu Kamat

The first step is having a new idea for a better way to do something.

From there, you build a business based on your idea, and along the way, you probably have some more original ideas.

This is innovation. Commercializing new ideas and turning them into a business is vitally important for productivity, prosperity and economic growth.

But if you don’t own your ideas, you probably won’t get far before somebody else comes along and copies what you do. Intellectual property (IP) is the critical group of assets that allows companies to own their ideas, and commercialize them in a way that produces a solid return on investment.

Earlier this year we discussed freedom to operate, the idea that a company needs to have a solid IP strategy to grow and develop their business, or risk being boxed out by their competitors.

Unfortunately, Canada has been historically weak at promoting IP ownership and commercialization in the private sector. In 2017, the US Patent and Trademark Office granted over 9,000 patents that had contributions from Canadian resident-inventors. Out of these, 45% were directly assigned to organizations or entities outside Canada indicating that a significant portion of domestic IP has left the country.

Canadian companies often don’t invest in IP early enough, so when they’re on the verge of breakthrough growth, they’re left with a “sell or scale-up dilemma.” If they had a stronger IP portfolio and greater freedom to operate in the global marketplace, the path to scaling would be clearer.

Fortunately, in the past few years, some Canadian governments have begun to steer the ship in the right direction. Let’s spotlight three promising initiatives in Canada, each championing the generation, protection, and commercialization of Canadian IP with a view to enhancing the freedom to operate of Canadian companies.

Innovation Asset Collective (IAC)

Funded by the department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, the Innovation Asset Collective (IAC) is an independent, not-for-profit membership organization that provides targeted IP support for Canadian companies in the cleantech sector. It was launched in 2020 as a key component of the federal government’s broader IP Strategy. That broader IP Strategy also includes Elevate IP, which provides funding to businesses to develop their own IP strategy.

A hallmark of IAC's offerings is its distinctive IP portfolio. With a budget of $10M, IAC actively acquires patents as part of a collective that is accessible to its members. This acts as a protective barrier against potential third-party threats. If somebody is threatening to sue an IAC member for patent infringement, they can use one of IAC’s patents as the basis for a threat to countersue.

Beyond the portfolio, the IAC also provides members with funding through grants to support IP development, and advanced IP education to help businesses navigate the nexus of IP and corporate strategy. Additionally, the IAC contributes to the Canadian IP discourse by regularly producing Patent Landscape Reports, which delve deep into the patent ecosystem to uncover gaps, discern trends, and guide companies toward strategic IP decisions.

As we get closer to Budget 2024, innovators are looking for the federal government to renew IAC's funding and expand its mandate. This is critical because in order to have a larger impact on domestic companies’ freedom to operate, the program must start to include other sectors like health, cybersecurity, semiconductors, artificial intelligence, and quantum.

Intellectual Property Ontario (IPON)  

Intellectual Property Ontario (IPON) is a provincial agency that was set up by the Government of Ontario in fall of 2022. IPON provides expert IP advice and access to IP resources to help researchers and companies understand how to maximize the value of IP and better compete in the global market. This came from recommendations delivered by the Expert Panel on Intellectual Property in 2020, which emphasized the need for the government to invest in the protection of and commercialization of domestic innovation.  

IPON is a great example of how the Ontario government is playing a proactive role in the evolution and safeguarding of its home-grown ideas. Since the official launch, IPON‘s services have already made a difference in the province’s innovation economy — particularly in the post-secondary space. For example, as part of the Commercialization Mandate Policy Framework, IPON reviewed innovation strategies from 42 postsecondary institutions in Ontario. Additionally, as of April 2023, IPON is providing $2 million in funding for seven projects proposed by ten postsecondary institutions across the province to enhance local commercialization efforts and drive economic growth.

British Columbia’s Intellectual Property Strategy

In June of 2023, the government of British Columbia allocated $2.5 million to develop and implement a comprehensive IP Strategy for the province, aiming to amplify the understanding, utilization, and protection of IP by small to medium-sized firms. One of the standout components of this strategy is the intention to establish a centralized virtual IP hub to simplify the process for businesses seeking IP-related information and resources. Another distinctive feature is the commitment to make government “IP Smart” and ensure IP is considered in the development and delivery of provincially sponsored programs. This conscious commitment is vital in forging strong freedom to operate frameworks and sets a benchmark that other provinces should take note of. Lastly, the government is also partnering with Innovate BC, the province's Crown corporation, to introduce new training modules and resources as part of the strategy’s education commitments.  

Although still in its early stages, this strategy signals a commendable and proactive stance by the BC government, underscoring the pivotal role that IP will play in the province's future economic trajectory.

The Way Forward

These three initiatives, although independent, reflect a growing understanding and appreciation within governments of the value of IP and the crucial role governments can play in enhancing companies’ freedom to operate. However, it's imperative to recognize that these are just the initial steps on a much longer journey.

As we look to the future, it's essential that governments across the country, particularly those without domestically focused IP frameworks and strategies, build on this momentum. With the stakes so high and the potential vast, there's no better time than now to fully invest in Canadian ideas.

Mooseworks is the Council of Canadian Innovators' innovation policy series. To get posts like this delivered to your inbox twice a month, sign up for CCI's newsletter here.

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