A panel of experts led by former BlackBerry Ltd. co-CEO Jim Balsillie is calling on Ontario to make intellectual property learning a key priority for provincial universities and colleges.
The report calls on government to create a standardized, online IP curriculum and make it mandatory for people and organizations that receive public funding to support entrepreneurs. On top of that, the panel recommended a centralized office that could offer more sophisticated education and expertise on complex IP issues.
Along with those two recommendations, the panel also advocates for the province to have various agencies throughout the province make generating IP a key focus.
Balsillie told the Financial Post that these kinds of basic reforms are long overdue.
“It’s got to be a front-of-mind issue, absolutely, just like the rest of the world did 25 years ago,” he said in an interview after the report was released.
In the spring of 2019, the Ontario government struck a panel made up of Balsillie; University of Windsor law professor Myra Tawfik; Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy professor Shiri Breznitz; MyJupiter Inc. co-founder Dan Herman; and Natalie Raffoul, managing partner at Brion Raffoul Intellectual Property Law.
The report makes the case that intellectual property is vital to the success of the Canadian economy, as more economic value shifts toward intangible assets.
“Instead of traditional supply chains, the economy of IP and data features intangible value chains where companies compete on staking positions based on their IP and data assets and use those assets to expand their ‘freedom-to-operate’ while limiting competitors,” the report says.
“Successful companies now principally compete on staking positions in value chains of intangibles rather than by only lowering costs in production supply chains. Additional product enhancements and services based on IP and data have low or even zero marginal production costs, which results in ‘winner take all’ economics.”
The Ontario government says that businesses that manage their intellectual property are four times more likely to export, and 64 per cent more likely to be high growth.
We believe that if the recommendations are done as a package, they will have rapid and transformative effects on our innovation ecosystem, and involve low to no dollars
panel chairman Jim Balsillie
Balsillie said the signals from the Ontario government are generally encouraging.
“I can’t and I won’t presuppose what they’re going to do, but I’m very optimistic that they’re going to move with priority and haste on this,” Balsillie said.
“We believe that if the four recommendations made by the panel are done as a package, they will have rapid and transformative effects on our innovation ecosystem, and they involve low to no dollars.”
None of these issues is particularly new to the people who follow issues of innovation and technology in the Canadian economy. Balsillie has been raising concerns about the lack of focus on intellectual property for years.
The same basic concerns were at the heart of the federal government’s intellectual property strategy, which was published in April of 2018, more than a year before the Ontario expert panel went to work.
Balsillie suggested that the federal government strategy could be doing more.
“I would encourage Ottawa to take this issue with greater urgency,” he said. “Look at the GDP per capita stats, and if we want to help people be prosperous and we want to shift to an ideas economy from a high-carbon economy, we’re going to have to own ideas and ask for money for them.”