Businesses need I.P. strategies — so do governments: A how-to guide
By Tessa Seager, CCI British Columbia Director of Government Affairs
Intellectual property is the currency of the 21st century, and it’s time to treat it as such.
The largest, most successful firms in the world —tech giants like Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft — know that their data, patents and trademarks are vitally important to their business. In fact, intangible assets make up 90% of the S&P 500 market value, and businesses that don’t have an IP strategy are falling behind.
But what about governments that don’t have an IP strategy? Unfortunately, it’s even worse. Without a clear strategy for IP, Canadian governments all too often wind up actively funding the creation of ideas that foreign companies commercialize, with economic benefits flowing out of Canada.
It is a trend we have seen repeatedly. The most illustrative example recently is Tesla’s partnership with Dalhousie University. Despite $20 million in public NSERC funding fuelling a slew of patented inventions that are the basis for Tesla’s ‘million-mile’ battery, Tesla owns all of the IP and research and development associated with the battery. Canadians, having paid once for the R&D, are now paying a second time as Tesla’s commercialized products are sold back to us.
To avoid giveaways, we need proactive strategies, and all players in the innovation ecosystem need to have a more sophisticated understanding of IP issues.
While the Horgan government promised to develop a provincial IP strategy in his party’s 2020 platform, and he confirmed this intention with post-election mandate letters, this government has been silent on the matter since. Here are three steps that the B.C. government can implement in 2022 that will establish the frameworks we need to remain competitive in the knowledge-based economy:
- Establish an IP Secretariat: Following Ontario’s lead, B.C. should establish an IP Secretariat. The IP Secretariat, made up of new, in-house government hires and guided by an external expert panel that has experience in IP policy and IP operations, would advise the government on how to generate, commercialize, and protect the long term value of homegrown ideas. This includes advising the government on how to improve our prosperity of their existing decisions through the addition of IP related actions. Instead of treating IP as a silo, this Secretariat must be given free rein to adopt a whole-of-government approach, providing instruction on the IP ramifications of all government decisions — from FDI, to new funding programs, to existing innovation programming, and to post-secondary education work learning placements.
- Introduce an online IP education program aimed towards start-ups: To close the IP knowledge deficit and increase IP literacy at the stage where it really matters, a free-to-access, standardized web-based IP curriculum should be developed and deployed to innovators. Ideally, this IP education program — which would touch on developing an overall IP strategy, managing IP in contracts, managing confidentiality, and engaging external experts — would be mandatory for any individual or entity who receives public funds in support of entrepreneurial activities.
- Recognize the role of funding agencies and third-party intermediaries: Startup incubators, accelerators and other organizations funded by the government have a huge role to play in today’s knowledge-based economy. As a start, these bodies should be directed to include applicants’ IP portfolios as an assessment criterion when awarding funds; they should aim to ensure IP experts are available to provide advisory services to recipients, either through Board composition or informal networks; and their mandates should be modernized to include the generation of IP for the benefit of B.C.’s economy as a goal to be accomplished.
The above three steps are the start of a coherent provincial IP strategy. They are actionable, practicable, and they put IP at the forefront of government action — which is exactly what we need to prosper in the 21st century economy.
Tessa Seager leads CCI’s advocacy in British Columbia. She can be reached at email@example.com.