Ontario’s plan to improve intellectual property (IP) commercialization moves forward

Ensuring IP rights stay with Canadians has been deemed critical for the future of economic prosperity in Canada. The 2019 IP Canada report highlighted that the majority of industrial designs, trademarks and patents (especially patents) are filed by applicants outside of Canada. This is a major concern for the future of Canadian innovation as many Canadian inventions are not commercialized in Canada and are instead sold or transferred outside of Canada. Further, there is a general lack of awareness, particularly by small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) regarding IP rights. Almost 60% of SMEs are at least aware of patents but only 2% hold at least one patent. Based on these figures, there is a clear need to improve IP retention and awareness in Canada, specifically in Ontario.

In response to issues with Canadian IP rights leaving the country and ensuring SMEs are better equipped to utilize their IP rights, the Ontario government commissioned an Expert Panel on Intellectual Property in 2019. The report produced by the panel provided multiple recommendations such as the need to: clarify the mandates of commercialization offices within postsecondary and research institutions, develop a standardized, online, IP education curriculum for these institutions, implement a centralized provincial resource to provide legal and IP expertise, and develop a governance framework for organizations supporting entrepreneurial and innovation activities. In July 2020, the Ontario government announced it would begin to implement these recommendations by appointing a Special Implementation Team on Intellectual Property.

The recommendations of the expert panel appear to mirror the pillars of Canada’s Intellectual Property Strategy to some degree. The National IP Strategy emphasizes IP awareness, education and advice, strategic IP tools for growth, and IP legislation. The recommendations of the expert panel focus primarily on IP awareness, education and advice. Whether the “centralized provincial resource” will amount to tools that business owners, inventors and entrepreneurs can utilize beyond general advice is yet to be seen but on its face the recommendations focus on education and awareness. This focus appears to be a concerted effort to establish IP commercialization hubs within postsecondary and research institutions. These institutions are important avenues of innovation which will hopefully begin to capitalize on inventions stemming from work within them but also educate those moving on to invent elsewhere in Ontario. 

It is unclear whether this framework is the most appropriate method for promoting IP commercialization in Ontario. Critics have cited this as a narrow approach, stating that postsecondary institutions focus primarily on basic research that has little need for commercialization at its current stage. This presents problems for those wishing to license their IP because it will most likely require further development. While this concern is warranted, the implementation of a functional IP commercialization ecosystem would allow for postsecondary and research institutions to become more IP literate, and, in turn, more efficiently conduct their research to maximize IP commercialization. This would lead to a stable flow of IP rights in Ontario.

Written by Christian Bekking, 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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