February 12, 2020
By Noel Courage
The Ontario government’s panel on Intellectual Property (IP) has provided its Report to the government1. The Panel was created in Spring 2019 to develop an action plan for developing a provincial IP framework to exploit Ontario’s investments in research and development. The government also wanted to maximize the role of Ontario’s “innovation intermediaries”, such as university technology transfer offices, in supporting the framework. A broad definition of IP was considered, beyond just patents2. That said, patents were recognized a significant form of IP in terms of their economic value to protect R&D, complexity and costs.
The panel was asked to provide recommendations on:
The mandate was focused on the Ontario government, and did not review federal government activities in Ontario. The panel engaged with many stakeholders in Ontario, and also considered international practices and initiatives. Consultations, such as questionnaires and in-person meetings, were held with university and college technology transfer offices and other provincially funded organizations, such as research institutes and Regional Innovation Centres (RICs).
Some metrics were identified that may indicate room for improvement in protecting and commercializing IP in Ontario.:
The various consulted groups provided feedback, which is briefly summarized below:
University Technology Transfer Offices
These offices flagged issues such as:
There is some overlap in training provided by Universities and Colleges in Canada. Colleges historically tended to focus more on career training and trades, but they also provide complex technical programs and conduct high quality R&D. The IP approach of Colleges differs from Universities in that Colleges generally do not retain IP ownership. Colleges flagged similar issues as universities regarding access to expertise and on campus education.
Provincially-funded Innovation Intermediaries
Other innovation-supporting organizations, such as the provincially-funded Regional Innovation Centres also flagged the issues of access to expertise and on campus education. These intermediaries typically provide resources and support for IP protection and commercialization, but do not focus on generating IP (ie. these organizations generally support the ecosystem and are not patent-holders).
Medical and other Research Organizations
These organizations tend to own IP developed in their institutions. However, despite being IP owners, they also flagged issues around IP funding and access to IP expertise.
Northern Ontario (rural) Innovation Stakeholders.
Similar issues were flagged, such as access to IP expertise, capacity, education and networks were flagged.
As a result of these consultations, the Panel acknowledged a need for:
The Panel recommended (summarized in brief):
IP Literacy/Centralized Resources
The Panel concluded that IP from publicly-supported institutions has the potential to facilitate prosperity through a properly governed, resourced and positioned innovation ecosystem.
In my view, the consultations accurately summarized some of the challenges that have been discussed “on the street” in Ontario in the technology commercialization community. Technology transfer offices and other innovation-supporting organizations work hard with the resources at hand, but there is always room for improvement and to evolve best practices. The panel report provides a call to action for the government to improve its IP protection and commercialization. It would be worthwhile for the government to continue to seek out and listen to stakeholders in order to gain a deeper understanding of their issues and to effectively implement improvements.
1 “Report: Intellectual Property in Ontario’s Innovation Ecosystem.” Expert Panel on Intellectual Property. February 2020.
2 Contracts, copyright, domain names, geographical indications, industrial designs, trademarks, plant breeders’ rights, and trade secrets were some of the other key categories.
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