IP expert Peter Cowan tapped to head Intellectual Property Ontario

Queens Park
Cowan expected to shape province’s IP policy, ensure a competitive IP landscape.

The province of Ontario has chosen Peter Cowan, an often-tapped government resource on intellectual property (IP) issues, to lead Intellectual Property Ontario (IPON), BetaKit has learned.

Cowan has been working as IPON’s head since least late summer, multiple sources confirmed to BetaKit. Those sources, who asked to remain anonymous as they’re not allowed to speak publicly on the matter, noted that Cowan has been taking meetings with members of the ecosystem for several weeks.

“Peter Cowan is an experienced IP professional with a deep understanding of these issues.”

Cowan, whose expertise extends through the federal level with the Innovation Asset Collective (IAC), did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication; nor did the office of Vic Fedeli, minister of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade under whose mandate the agency falls. IPON confirmed via email that it had received BetaKit’s questions on the appointment, but did not respond by publication deadline.

At least one organization BetaKit spoke with had positive words regarding Cowan’s appointment, however. “Peter Cowan is an experienced IP professional with a deep understanding of these issues,” Alanna Sokic, manager of government affairs for Ontario at the Council of Canadian Innovators (CCI), told BetaKit. “We’ve worked with Peter in the past, and we’re thrilled to see him take on a leadership role with IPON.”

Peter Cowan founder of Northworks IP and co founder of Innovation Asset Collective

It will be up to Cowan to guide the province in its IP ambitions. The move follows consultations and a government action plan to create an IP framework. That plan came six months after an expert panel, led by Jim Balsillie, chair of CCI and former co-CEO of BlackBerry, released its report recommending how the Ontario government should handle the commercialization of IP.

Cowan’s background is steeped in IP, with much of it in hands-on, practical experience: he has led innovation sessions leading to hundreds of patent filings, and is named as the inventor on 55 filed patents, with over 30 of those granted.

Cowan is the founder of consultancy Northworks IP, and co-founder of the Innovation Asset Collective. The IAC is a federally incorporated non-profit that received $30 million to assist small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the clean technology sector with their IP related needs as part of a four-year pilot program.

RELATED: Ontario government announces launch of new IP agency

IPON, created in March, will serve as a resource for IP expertise to help researchers and companies maximize the value of their IP, and strengthen their capacity to grow and compete in the global market.

Besides Cowan, the agency includes Karima Bawa, senior fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, who functions as the chair. Additional members appointed to the board of directors include Sally Daub, founder, Pool Global Partners; Elliot Fung, executive director, Medical Innovation Xchange (MIX); Dan Herman, PhD, special advisor to government and founder, Go To Jupiter Productions Inc.; and Hongwei Liu, CEO, Mappedin.

Cowan’s first order of business will likely be dealing with Ontario’s poor track record when it comes to IP commercialization. Balsillie’s 2020 report found that while 59 percent of Ontario’s small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are at least slightly aware of patents, only two percent of SMEs hold at least one.

The expert panel laid out why such an IP gap matters to corporate bottom lines and the provincial economy. “Intangible assets — such as IP and data — have a direct impact on wealth and power at both the company level and nationally,” the panel wrote in its report.

To be sure, Ontario is not alone in its IP issues; Canada as a country struggles with IP challenges. In 2019, Canada was ranked the 14th country globally by number of IP rights filed. As well, the trove of IP that is created in Canada often gets scooped up by foreign giants with deep pockets.

That said, the Ontario panel uncovered a number of issues related to IP, each of which are challenges that Cowan and IPON will face. They include, but are not limited to, expertise, funding, and resources.

RELATED: The federal government wants to address Canada’s intellectual property woes, but is its strategy paying off?

The panel reported that it heard that a lack of dedicated IP expertise and capacity across Ontario’s innovation system was common, leaving many organizations with little choice to either discourage active IP generation or to direct entrepreneurs to use external legal counsel.

“A more foundational lack of IP literacy as it relates to what type of expertise is required, significantly hinders Ontario’s commercialization potential,” the panel noted.

The panel also found that a lack of direct funding and resources for IP commercialization and protection meant that knowledge created on Ontario campuses was often “left on academic shelves” and/or sold at a development stage, significantly limiting the returns to Ontario’s economy.

The Government of Ontario created the expert panel on intellectual property in 2019, as part of its efforts to review, update, and implement policy objectives that advance the prosperity of Ontario in the contemporary economy.

The expert panel was asked to develop an action plan for the development of a provincial intellectual property framework.

Furthermore, the panel reported a “wide recognition that sophisticated IP literacy is lacking across the ecosystem,” and that it failed to receive any feedback suggesting that existing IP education initiatives have sufficiently addressed the IP knowledge deficit.

IPON is expected to provide clients across the province with access to intellectual property strategy advice, legal expertise, and educational resources. It will help businesses, entrepreneurs and researchers innovate and stay competitive, according to its mandate.

Feature image courtesy Pixabay.

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel

Charles Mandel's reporting and writing on technology has appeared in Wired.com, 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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