Intellectual Property Literacy in Engineering Programs: Empowering the Next Generation of Canadian Innovators

Intellectual Property (IP) literacy is often overlooked in Canadian universities’ engineering programs. Engineers are trained to think creatively and come up with innovative solutions for our modern-day problems. However, they rarely learn about the mechanisms that are set in place to protect their intellectual property. Innovation is a driving force in today’s knowledge economy. In fact, 51% of Canada’s economy is comprised of knowledge-oriented industries and the economic value of intangible goods is steadily growing. Although education about all categories of IP can be beneficial, for engineers, understanding the fundamentals of patent law and the mechanics of the patenting process is key. In a report published by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), electrical and mechanical engineering were two of the leading sectors in filing patent applications in the past two years. Hence, incorporating IP education in engineering programs can play a key role in complementing technical training with knowledge that can empower engineers in commercializing their IP in the later stages of their careers.

In addition to incorporating theoretical concepts of IP in engineering programs’ curricula, educators should also consider teaching students how to review publicly-accessible prior art documents. Learning to engage in prior art review will benefit engineers in two ways. First, since 90% of patents are granted to improvements made to already-patented inventions, engineers will be able to utilize knowledge about existing technologies in order to further innovate as opposed to investing resources into recreating old inventions. Second, learning how to access and review prior art documents in the early stages of their education will equip them with tools to avoid committing IP infringements in the future. Although engineering students tend to gain some insight into their IP rights and the patenting process during their capstone projects, they are often not adequately prepared to deal with the challenges of IP commercialization. To address this issue, a group of academics in Indiana University proposed the Engineering-Science Intellectual Property Project. The goal of the project was to bolster engineering students’ understanding of IP law through a set of elective courses that would count towards their degrees. The project also proposed interdisciplinary collaborations between STEM and law students to create a mutually educational experience for both sets of students in the area of patent law. At York University, the success of Skygauge Robotics in obtaining a patent in addition to securing significant funding through a collaboration between the BEST Lab at the Lassonde School of Engineering and the IP Innovation Clinic is a testament to the fruitfulness of these kinds of collaborations.

Incorporating IP education in engineering programs’ curricula will require significant investment of resources by Canadian universities. However, since a large portion of patent applications filed with CIPO seek to protect engineers’ inventions, empowering engineers-in-training by providing IP education and setting them up for future commercial success will be a worthwhile investment.

Written by Bonnie Hassanzadeh, JD Candidate 2022, enrolled in Professor D’Agostino’s Directed Reading: IP Innovation Clinic course at Osgoode Hall Law School. As part of the course requirements, students were asked to write a blog on a topic of their choice. 

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