On October 23rd and 24th, inventors, law students, lawyers, patent agents, patent portfolio managers, policy analysts, Canadian Intellectual Property Office’s (CIPO) patent examiners and other stakeholders of the patent system convened at Osgoode for the IP Hackathon. Inspired by similar events at Stanford, Professor Giuseppina D’Agostino, the Founder and Director of IP Osgoode, decided to adopt d.school’s (Institute of Design at Stanford) design methods to create action plans for making the Canadian patent system more user-friendly. The event, co-sponsored by Lassonde School of Engineering and CIPO, was led primarily by the energetic Maya Shino, a Stanford Law School and d.school alumn and Ron Dolin, an engineer and a law instructor at Stanford Law School.
Participants, who were divided into groups of approximately seven people, engaged in a step-by-step process of designing solutions to improve the Canadian patent system’s navigability for inventors. The first day started by interviewing users of the patent system about their experiences with it. Each group then synthesized a Design Brief identifying the users’ main need in the patent application process and the reason for the need’s existence. Almost every group identified lack of easily accessible, easy-to-understand information from a reliable source as the main challenge to users. In addition, inventors expressed frustration at the unavailability of tools that would enable them to use the system without incurring significant costs, such as an efficient prior art search engine or templates for drafting patent applications. Admittedly, these needs may not have been entirely reflective of inventors in general, as the majority of the inventors who attended the Hackathon were operators of start-up companies. However, since these users have particularly limited resources, the challenges they face are especially important to address.
After identifying user needs, the teams brainstormed solutions to these needs and created a first prototype of the preferred solution. These prototypes were tested on the second day of the Hackathon by having two to three inventors experience them and provide feedback to the teams. After the groups modified their designs based on the inventors’ recommendations, they received further design and system review of their prototypes from User Interface and User Experience Designers. These experts’ input was particularly helpful for creating easy-to-grasp information without compromising the quality of the content.
At the Hackathon’s conclusion, the groups presented the revised prototypes of their solution and described the steps to be taken to further their projects. The designs presented by the participants were diverse and creative. One group devised a wizard that would assist inventors in drafting a patent application. Another group envisioned an app that would allow users to track the progress of their patent application. If the idea was feasible, the group encouraged Osgoode students to take on this project and create a commercial product. A third group produced a short educational video on intellectual property, supplemented by a questionnaire to help inventors assess what intellectual property rights may apply to their invention. The last group (to which I was assigned) designed an easily navigable website where users could obtain basic information about their IP rights and the various resources to help them manage these rights, from commercialization to defending an infringement action.
The Hackathon was an unparalleled opportunity to address some of the shortcomings of the current patent system in Canada. Because of the active participation of the system’s users in every stage of the design process, their needs could be adequately assessed and addressed. Moreover, the event facilitated communication between different stakeholders, so that each contributed their perspective and experience. The participation of CIPO representatives was particularly encouraging, as it demonstrated CIPO’s willingness to work towards improving the system that it administers.
The focus on innovation and its interaction with the patent system was a prominent theme of the Hackathon, as the objective of the event was to improve the patent system to encourage inventors to seek its protection. Participants had an opportunity to learn more about entrepreneurship and inventorship by speaking to the inventors about their experiences and from the talk delivered by Bill Mantel, Assistant Deputy Minister of Research and Innovation Ontario. Moreover, the design principles applied at the Hackathon were very similar to the typical process of innovation, whereby inventors identify a customer need, create solutions to address the need and test it against the user to assess the demand for their idea and market viability.
Overall, the Hackathon fostered a spirit of collaboration and started a frank, user-centric conversation about improvements to our patent system. Hopefully IP Osgoode will continue this important dialogue by organizing similar events in the future.
Anya Lavrov is a JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School and is enrolled in Osgoode’s Intellectual Property Law Intensive Program. As part of the program requirements, students were asked to write a blog on a topic of their choice.