COVID-19 has devastated social, economic, and public sectors globally. While nations develop macro-level response strategies, it becomes prudent to examine the pandemic’s impact on each industry and explore best practices for future readiness. The 4th Annual IP Data & Research Conference organized by Canadian Intellectual Property Office (‘CIPO’) and Centre for International Governance Innovation (‘CIGI’) included a session on ‘The Impact of COVID-19 on IP and Innovation’ which presented an insightful discourse on intellectual property trends and developments during the pandemic. Rich Corken, Deputy Director of Economics, Research and Evidence at the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office, moderated the session.
Patenting in Pandemic Mitigation Technologies
Mazahir Bhagat, Data Scientist at CIPO’s Corporate Strategies and Services Branch, shared CIPO’s response to the pandemic, including its findings of their study on COVID’s impact on IP trends in Canada. The Canadian government’s Pandemic Response Challenge Program funded the National Research Council (‘NRC’) to accelerate research and development in Rapid Detection and Diagnosis, Therapeutics and Vaccine Development, and Digital Health. CIPO helped the NRC to understand the patent landscape on related technologies.
The study found 11,000 global patents in these areas between 1999 to 2018, including 178 patents from Canadian institutions. In the global dataset, 56% of patents fell under Therapeutics and Vaccine Development, 33% under Rapid Detection and Diagnosis, and 11% under Digital Health. Patent activity consistently increased just after the onset of major outbreaks. For example, filings in Canada spiked after SARS and MERS.
50% of patent applications in pandemic related technologies originated in the US and China. While Canada’s 8% growth between 2009 and 2018 aligns with the global average, filings from China grew the fastest at 26%. Statistical analysis indicates a move towards concentration in patent filings from a few countries. Further, Canada was found to have one the of highest specializations in pandemic mitigation technologies compared to other countries of interest. Within Canada, British Columbia, Quebec, and Ontario have the most institutions involved in patenting pandemic mitigation technologies among the provinces. The study also indicated that Canada has a large talent pool innovating in these technologies.
Impact of COVID-19: An IP Office Perspective
The UK was hit badly by COVID-19, with nearly 1400 daily deaths during the second wave (January 2021). The economy also took the brunt of 3 national lockdowns. However, UKIPO leveraged its recent IP modernization activities to quickly transition to remote working with changes in workflow, such as moving from fax to electronic issuance of official correspondence. Confronting the pandemic, UKIPO declared ‘interrupted days’ from March 24 to July 29, 2020. They extended document filing or opposition deadlines falling between these days and temporarily changed renewal fees to offer flexibility to businesses affected by pandemic. Workplaces adapted such measures as virtual recruitment and staff mental health and wellbeing initiatives.
Evaluating COVID-19’s impact on UKIPO’s core services, design and patent application filing increased slightly during the pandemic, while trademark filings increased significantly. Similarly, patent and design grants followed normal trends, but trademark registrations dipped before rising sharply in August 2020. Examiner productivity increased as well. The UK ranked 2nd among the world’s fastest growing trademark registers (31% growth in 2019-20). Comparatively, trademark filings in Canada declined. The reason for unprecedented growth in global trademark trends during the pandemic is unclear, with some indication of increased investment in new brands. This will be curious to investigate, especially because market shocks like a pandemic tend to decrease new filings. UKIPO is deeply invested in researching factors that drive IP demand and filings.
In summary, UKIPO responded promptly to the pandemic with formal, staffing and customer-oriented changes which helped increase productivity.
ExploreIP: Leveraging Public Sector IP for Commercialization
The final presenters were Heather Hossie, Director of IP, and Petra Hudakova, Senior Policy Analyst – Project Manager at ExploreIP, both from ISED. They discussed the ExploreIP project, Canada’s intellectual property marketplace.
ExploreIP is a database of public sector patents with search capabilities for businesses to identify licensable inventions and connect directly with patent holders. It was launched in August 2019 in collaboration with IP Australia and currently lists over 4000 patent families sourced from 51 Canadian public sector organizations. ExploreIP was developed with an aim to assist Canadian businesses, especially SMEs, in finding technologies within public sector patents that align with their business goals and help them grow. In response to the pandemic, ISED added a new COVID-19 category in April 2020 listing pandemic-related technologies.
The platform allows businesses to reach patent owners through a dedicated page for each patent, which includes keyword search, notifications about newly added technologies, and licensing status details. The database is updated through organizational accounts wherein a public sector institution can modify their patent portfolio with new entries. This is supplemented by an automated process where ExploreIP retrieves new patents from other public databases. ExploreIP will enter its next phase of development in April 2021: optimizing the platform, enhancing the search function, and adding other types of IP and market intelligences.
ExploreIP is a much-needed initiative to help businesses search licensable patents and inventions by Canadian public institutions, access licensing and collaboration opportunities, and connect directly with IP holders. Interested business are encouraged to access the platform here.
In conclusion, the panel discussions brought forward insightful points on creating robust innovation pipelines and making them shock-proof in the future. While Canada’s low pandemic-related patent filing trends suggest a need for a concerted effort to increase conversion of its scientific specialization to IP, best practices employed by UKIPO and ExploreIP against COVID-19 offer ideas which we can share in and follow.
Gurbir Sidhu is an IPilogue Contributing Editor and LLM candidate at Osgoode Professional Development.