Innovation is, once again, a topic of great concern for Canadian policy makers and the commentariat. And for good reason. Yet, at a time when (mainly foreign) companies – notably Alphabet (Google), Apple, Tesla, Amazon, and Facebook – are lauded as being the ‘world’s most innovative’ (for example, see FastCompany and the Boston Consulting Group) and are transforming our everyday lives and the economy, it’s easy to forget that the Government of Canada’s plans for a national Innovation Agenda reach back to the days of the Dot-com Bubble— predating the staggering growth of the Google search engine, the launch of Apple’s iPhone, Elon Musk’s (of Tesla fame) sale of PayPal, Amazon’s first profitable quarter, and Mark Zuckerberg’s 18th birthday.
Back in 2001, the Government of Canada—then led by Prime Minister Jean Chrétien—sought to remain focussed on creating a national Innovation Agenda as Canadians’ concern shifted towards security following the September 11, 2001 attacks. In the sixteen years since, gallons of ink and plenty of bytes have been used to call for a domestic strategy to address the country’s diminishing returns and deteriorating position in the global knowledge-based economy. The release of the Government of Canada’s Budget 2017: Building a Strong Middle Class, which included “The Case for Innovation” and the announcement of an Intellectual Property Strategy, has changed the debate in the country, replacing recurring calls for action (for example, see here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here) with cautious optimism—even from frequent critics such as former chairman and co-CEO of Research in Motion Jim Balsillie.
It was against this backdrop of a renewed innovation impetus that Canada’s Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, the Honourable Navdeep Bains, gave the opening keynote for the Canadian Telecom Summit 2017 (CTS17) in Toronto. Minister Bains used this forum to advocate for more affordable access to telecommunications services for Canadians. In his speech, he commented that connecting Canadians through access to telecommunications services is necessary because: “We need every Canadian to be innovation ready—ready to spot opportunities, imagine possibilities, discover new ideas, start new businesses and create new jobs”.
In his speech, Minister Bains referred to enabling connectivity and bridging the “digital divide” between Canadians; however, doing so will require more than simply connecting Canadians through telecommunications services and digital technologies. Public and corporate policies must be updated to capitalize on the strengths and mitigate the negative ramifications of innovation-based economic activity. Professor Dan Breznitz, Co-Director of the Innovation Policy Lab at the Munk School of Global Affairs, described how at the same time that Israel has become a key supplier of new technologies, it has also experienced pronounced economic inequality. Canada’s Innovation Agenda, then, must look to address the many facets of our digitally-connected lives and work to promote inclusiveness and opportunity for all Canadians.
The Disruptive Innovation and Digital Integration segment that the IPilogue’s Content and Social Media Editor Dominic Cerilli writes about describes how Canada’s telecommunications industry players are – and are not – preparing for the increasing adoption of digital and interconnected devices. Cerilli notes the vital role that telecom service providers play in providing the backbone of digital connectivity, and how consumers aYonida may become more, assertive about receiving higher standards of services.
Similarly, Yonida Kouiko’s piece, Privacy by Default: A Privacy and Cyber Security Imperative in the IoT and Big-Data Age, focuses on another key aspect of interconnected Internet of Things (IoT) devices: users expectations of and their need for privacy. She notes how the European Union (EU) is working to update privacy laws to instill Privacy by Design (PbD)—an engineering approach that seeks to make users communications and data secure at the earliest stages. However, as Kouiko demonstrates, PbD requires investment and expenditure by technology producers and telecommunications providers—and she wonders whether consumers will be willing to pay increased prices for more secure means of communication.
Questions surrounding affordability arise again in IPilogue Editor Prasang Shukla’s piece Money Talk(s) and Competition Conflict: The CTS17 Regulatory Blockbuster. As Shukla notes, concerns surrounding the affordability of telecom services in Canada and questions about the level of competition in the country’s telecommunications industry have been recurring issues for successive federal governments. Given the ISED Minister’s remarks, exploring new service delivery mechanisms and a continued focus on affordability for Canadians look to be prominent points of debate.
Yet, as Toby Harper-Merrett, the Executive Director of Computers for Success Canada (CFSC) reminded me on Twitter, attaining inclusive innovation will also require digital skills and education. Organizations such as CFSC help provide the digital tools and skills necessary to increase the talent-level of Canadians in innovative sectors. While the federal government’s Global Skills Strategy includes measures to address the needs for access to talent faced by tech firms in Canada, developing domestic expertise and experience remain essential.
At the CTS17 Daniel Schwanen, the Vice-President, Research at the C.D. Howe Institute, touched on one such area of expertise, noting that Canada currently suffers from problems with commercializing the ideas and knowledge generated by Canadian researchers and entrepreneurs. Part of this problem, Schwanen noted, is due to Canada’s poor track-record of utilizing intellectual property (IP) law to keep Canadian inventions in the hands of Canadian companies. Familiarity with IP law and commercialization strategies are important for attaining access to capital (through investment and licencing opportunities) and access to customers (through branding and the ability to prevent others from appropriating one’s technologies, goods, and services).
Enabling access to IP services and cultivating the next generation of IP law talent are crucial to improving commercialization prospects and assisting with the growth of the country’s innovation ecosystem. IP Osgoode’s own Innovation Clinic – and a small number of other Clinics across the country (such as at the University of Windsor and the University of Calgary) – help address gaps in Canada’s entrepreneurial support system by providing pro bono IP information and assistance to early-stage and under-funded inventors and companies.
The vast array of policy and commercial issues at stake in the development of Canada’s innovation agenda and national IP strategy are daunting but imperative. As the country is increasingly recognized for having its “tech moment”, the time is right for an inclusive Innovation Agenda that provides benefits for Canadian companies, consumers, citizens, and society at large. Positioning the country as an international leader in emerging areas will require a strategy that lays the groundwork for the infrastructure, IP, incentives, and interfaces that help Canada’s cutting-edge ideas become economically and socially beneficial products and processes.
Joseph F. Turcotte is a Senior Editor with the IPilogue and the IP Osgoode Innovation Clinic Coordinator. He holds a PhD from the Joint Graduate Program in Communication & Culture (Politics & Policy) at York University and Ryerson University (Toronto, Canada) and can be reached on Twitter: @joefturcotte.
The Canadian Telecom Summit brings together the leadership of Canada’s telecom, broadcast, and IT industries. For its 16th year, the CTS focussed on “Competition, Investment and Innovation: Driving Canada’s Digital Future” and featured keynote presentations and panel discussions on the range of issues facing industry and public policy makers in Canada. IP Osgoode and the IPilogue team members thank the CTS’ organizers (Mark Goldberg and Michael Sone) and Wind River for their generous support to allow us to attend.