First glimpse of Canada’s national IP strategy leaves trademarks out in the cold

  • Canada’s 2018 budget plan reveals aspects of country’s first national IP strategy
  • Patent sharing and public sector IP market among initiatives to receive funding
  • Trademarks largely left out of strategy commitments, though signs that may change

Canada’s 2018 budget plan has unveiled aspects of the country’s first comprehensive national intellectual property strategy. Although the importance of IP is much-vaunted throughout the policy statement, which also sets aside funds for a number of concrete IP initiatives, brand rights take a backseat in the highly patent-focused IP strategy announcements.

The Canadian government stated its commitment to the development of the country’s first comprehensive IP strategy at the start of 2017, launching a public consultation process to determine a set of policies and principles to help entrepreneurs protect and monetise their innovations. There has been no grand unveiling of the IP strategy yet, but the country’s 2018 budget plan – entitled Equality and Growth for a Strong Middle Class and announced last week – spells out some of the initiatives that will play a part in the unfolding strategy.

As well as placing a strong emphasis on innovation, creativity and intellectual property as parts of the government’s vision for future economic growth and job creation, the budget plan lays out a proposal to spend $85.3 million on several new IP initiatives over the next five years, with $10 million a year set aside on an ongoing basis.

Proposals include spending $30 million on a pilot Patent Collective that will pool IP rights so as to give SMEs greater access to the intangible assets they need to grow; expanding IP education and awareness initiatives at the cost of $21.5 million over five years, in order to disseminate knowledge of IP law and strategy more widely among Canadian entrepreneurs – including underrepresented groups; and creating an IP marketplace for the sale of public sector-owned rights. 

The budget has met with qualified approval from Canadian IP professionals. President of the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada (IPIC), Grant Lynds – also a principal at Marks & Clerk – told World Trademark Review: “We like the education and awareness aspect of the budget, the proposals to do with making businesses more IP-savvy”. He stressed, however, that IP professionals need to be front and centre of those efforts – something not made explicit in the budget announcement. 

Lynds also emphasised that the budget omitted several of the key recommendations that the IPIC made during the public consultation, including the initiation of Commercialisation Coupon to support the filing and monetisation of IP rights by researchers, and the introduction of subsidies, grants and tax incentives to stimulate IP efforts among SMEs. “What is really missing from the budget are incentives to develop and commercialise IP”, he said, continuing: “Some of these proposals are not going to help businesses develop and commercialise their intellectual property to the extent that our proposals would”.

But what also seems to be missing from this first glimpse into the country’s IP strategy is a significant focus on trademarks and other soft IP rights. Lynds insists that provisions for IP education and advice will – or at least should – include trademark knowledge. But the other initiatives announced in the budget are highly patent-orientated; and the chapter of the budget in which they are put forward focuses heavily on scientific and technological innovation, with patents being the only type of intellectual property mentioned by name.

This could change, of course; the budget says that the Canadian government will consider further steps – including legislative measures – to support the new IP strategy. And Lynds expects that there is more to be announced, perhaps even in the next few months – ahead of the 2019 national election.

Perhaps future commitments could include the steps the IPIC recommended to improve the country’s trademark system, such as the creation of an Office of Counterfeits, Piracy and Fraud to foster collaboration between government and industry in the fight against fakes; the restoration of the “use” requirement for obtaining trademarks in Canada; or the simplification of the country’s border enforcement mechanisms, which currently place a heavy burden on rights holders. 

But, while we now have a strong indication of how patents will feature in Canada’s new IP strategy, trademark practitioners and rights holders are as yet none-the-wiser about whether they will benefit from the government’s initiatives.

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