Rights and Rents: Why Canada must Harness its Intellectual Property Resources

Published: October 2011    |    By: Karen Mazurkewich


In today’s global economic context, IP requires careful consideration that is mindful of approaches being taken by other countries. Investment in and strategic management of human creativity and intellectual resources and products are the route to our future, and our future prosperity. The world’s ability to grow crops more efficiently under tougher climate and soil circumstances, provide clean water to rich and poor alike, and unlock new renewable energy sources depends on its ability to acquire knowledge and develop increasingly sophisticated technology. This requires wise and strategic management of its intellectual property. To this end, the CIC decided to examine Canada’s IP regime in light of the highly competitive international context, and with an eye to national strategies for innovation and increased productivity. This report and its recommendations are the result.

Although IP consists of several components, patents are central and the focus of this study. The law governs how to reward inventors and how to disseminate their ideas so that others, and society as a whole, may benefit. That may sound straightforward, but it is highly complex, legally and in terms of international application, especially when it comes to how companies manage IP and trade in it. Many people argue that the complexity has become excessive, and call for reform of the systems now in place. Valid as their views may be, this report does not enter into that debate. We take the world as it is and discuss ways in which Canada can deal more effectively with this critical piece of the innovation and competitiveness challenge.

About the Project

Knowledge is the bedrock of the modern economy, and an effective mechanism for capturing its value—intellectual property—is an essential ingredient of prosperity. Many countries are starting to develop policies on IP and incorporate them into strategies for fostering the innovation they hope will bolster their international competitiveness.

Canada is rich in resources that are most often shipped abroad. But as we move to embrace a knowledge-based economy, we must take care that our national inclination to package what we produce for export does not extend automatically to our intellectual property. It stands to reason that, if Canadians are to continue to make a meaningful contribution in the world, they must retain control of an appreciable portion of the IP they generate. The question is how best to go about it.

In search of answers, we canvassed specialists at the World Trade Organization, the World Intellectual Property Organization, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and various national IP offices in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Focusing on patents, we then convened a workshop in Ottawa with a group of advisors—both from Canada and abroad—to debate the relative merits of IP policies and practices around the world, and to identify key themes the CIC should address.

The next step was to determine what capacity IP plays within Canada’s economic sectors. We wanted to look beyond the information-technology and pharmaceutical industries—which always factor in IP discussions—and address sectors often overlooked, such as oil and gas, agriculture, renewable energy and medical technology. The goal was to determine how Canadian IP policies measure up against those of other industrial nations, including China, which is emerging as an IP giant.

Given the complexity of the subject, reaching that goal required a methodical approach. We began by identifying the major issues facing Canada and the factors that have brought them about, in each instance choosing a “case in point” to illustrate the impact and spelling out what lesson can be learned. Then, because so many countries find themselves trying to solve similar problems, we explored approaches being taken elsewhere, and selected a “role model” that may show Canada the way. The result, nine months later, is this report—and its proposals on how to create both a truly national approach to IP and a fitting role for Canada in the international IP regime now taking shape so rapidly.

About the Authors

Karen Mazurkewich is Lead Executive, Communications & Marketing at MaRS. In addition to co-founding her own startup, she spent a decade as a senior journalist for the Wall Street Journal in Asia and the Financial Post in Toronto where she covered financial services, business innovation and technology. She has authored reports on innovation for the Canadian International Council and the University of Waterloo, and programmed multiple digital media events for the Ontario Development Corporation, Interactive Ontario, and Brunico Communications. She is a former senior communications officer for the National Film Board of Canada.