British Columbia moves to protect its intellectual property with new programs

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The new provincial strategy hopes to help businesses navigate the complicated financial and legal aspects of IP.

British Columbia is the latest province to unveil a strategy to protect the benefits of intellectual property (IP) generated in the province, rather than letting bidders in other jurisdictions snap it up.

“British Columbia is transitioning to an economy where knowledge-based sectors are playing a greater role than ever before and we want to keep our great ideas right here at home,” Brenda Bailey, Minister of Jobs, Economic Development and Innovation said in a statement.

In 2019, Canada was ranked the 14th country globally by number of IP rights filed.

As a key action in the StrongerBC Economic Plan, B.C.’s new IP Strategy will provide education about IP for startups and small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) throughout the province. The move is meant to make it easier for people to understand and navigate the complicated financial and legal aspects of intellectual property.

The provincial government will provide $2.5 million to deliver the tools and resources to B.C. companies to safeguard their ideas and stay competitive in today’s global economy. That $2.5 million will help bolster the federal government’s ElevateIP program. The latter awarded $12.5 million to New Ventures BC (NVBC) in January, which will be used to create AccelerateIP, an initiative to support more IP training and development for startups.

NVBC was launched in 2000 by venture capitalist Wal van Lierop to provide BC early-stage tech venture founders with business skills, industry contacts, networking opportunities, and media recognition.

Innovate BC is a provincially funded agency that funds entrepreneurial support programs in the province. Formed in 2004, it began working with NVBC’s startup competition to provide funding for the event.

Concerns about Canada’s management of IP date back to at least 2014, when BlackBerry co-founder Jim Balsillie said that Canada’s woeful innovation issues have nothing to do with the character of our entrepreneurs, but rather because the country is poor at managing IP. He particularly cited the complete lack of both corporate and university-based training on IP law at that time.

Beyond a lack of training in IP law, in 2019 Canada was ranked the 14th country globally by number of IP rights filed, and according to a Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) survey from the same year, only two percent of Canadian SMEs said they owned a patent. What’s more, the trove of IP that is created in Canada often gets scooped up by foreign giants with deep pockets.

Mike McLean, CEO of the Innovation Asset Collective, claimed that while many federal programs fund activities like research and development, some will not fund IP assets, a decision he believes is “short-sighted,” given how expensive it can be for companies to build an IP position.

“The professionals that advise on those deals are expensive, the fees for governments and other registration entities are expensive, and those costs add up,” McLean said. “Small businesses typically are going to deploy their capital on building products or selling that product. They don’t have extra capital sitting around to help develop strategies to file trademarks or patents.”

All of this shows how long it can take for an IP policy such as the one BC is launching to come to fruition.

In 2020, Balsillie led an expert panel that was established as part of the Ontario government’s 2019-2020 budget. That panel outlined its recommendations on how the province should handle the commercialization of IP. The task force was asked to submit an action plan for a provincial IP framework aimed at maximizing commercialization opportunities at Ontario post-secondary institutions and within the innovation economy.

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Then in December 2022, the Government of Canada announced an investment of $90 million to a group of five organizations over four years to help startups with access to intellectual IP support.

At that time in 2022, Federal Minister of Innovation François-Philippe Champagne announced ElevateIP funding over four years to Springboard Atlantic, Mouvement des accélérateurs d’innovation du Québec (MAIN), Communitech, NVBC, as well as the governors of the University of Calgary in support of Innovate Calgary and Economic Development Lethbridge.

The federal ministry of Innovation, Science, and Economic Development (ISED) established the national IP strategy in 2018.

The ElevateIP program aims to help business accelerators and incubators provide tools for Canadian startups to understand, manage, and leverage their IP. Launched in Budget 2021, ElevateIP is managed by ISED) and is part of the government’s ongoing national intellectual property strategy.

Santa Ono, the 15th president of the University of British Columbia, argued for the importance of IP in a recent book.

He wrote,“Universities are the places that create intellectual property – innovations like artificial intelligence, stem cells, regenerative medicine…Bill Gates has said that the secret to success for any major tech company is its proximity to a world-class university. They feed on the intellectual property produced nearby.”

RELATED: Ontario government announces launch of new intellectual property agency

Benjamin Bergen, president of the tech-industry lobbying group the Canadian Council of Innovators, noted in a statement: “You can’t commercialize an innovation if you don’t have a strategy to own it. That’s why intellectual property is one of the key drivers for growth and long-term success in the 21st-century innovation economy.

“Promoting a deeper understanding of intellectual property, and building government supports and policies in collaboration with technology companies, is one of the best possible ways to drive higher valuations, encourage durable growth for companies and promote a thriving innovation hub in B.C,” Bergen added.

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in, Canadian Business, Report on Business Magazine, Canada's National Observer, The Globe and Mail, and the National Post, among many others. He lives off-grid in Nova Scotia.

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