One of the core principles underpinning the University of Waterloo’s entrepreneurship ecosystem is the ‘creator-owned’ intellectual property (IP) rights policy, which grants ownership to the inventor. This is grounded in the philosophy that providing incentive through IP ownership is the best motivator to ensure that commercialization of research provides broad societal and economic benefit.

On August 1, the University of Waterloo welcomed the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Navdeep Bains, for a special announcement on a new initiative to help entrepreneurs better access and leverage IP. The announcement was followed by a panel discussion on the importance of IP to Canadian businesses that included Minister Bains, Jay Shah, director of Velocity, Jason Hynes, a patent lawyer with Bereskin & Parr LLP, and Myra Tawfik, professor of IP commercialization and strategy at the University of Windsor.

IP spurs innovation

Innovation happens when people are allowed to create on their own terms, and Waterloo’s history bears that out. Waterloo’s Velocity Garage and the Accelerator Centre have produced hundreds of companies that have secured over $1.6 billion in investment and created over 5,500 jobs — many in the Kitchener-Waterloo region.

As the director of Velocity, Shah sees first-hand how IP education and support can help unlock more commercialization of Waterloo’s greatest research minds. Velocity has worked with more than 300 startups who have raised more than $815 million in funding to develop emerging technologies and innovative enterprises.

Shah told to the crowd that IP is an intangible asset that we need to nourish in our startups. Intellectual capital is one of the most important assets driving the most powerful companies around the world. He explained, IP support can transform “a small company into a global company…it is tremendously helpful to scale companies.”

Protecting entrepreneurs

Previously, Canada did not have a national IP strategy, a concern for many in the IP community.

Tawfik, who aside from teaching law, is the leading researcher on capacity-building in IP legal knowledge mobilization at the Centre for International Governance Innovation. She told the crowd that a national IP strategy will be transformational for Canadian businesses and for students in particular.

“It is fundamental to build capacity in IP literacy,” said Tawfik. She explained that many students would benefit from developing their knowledge of IP and public disclosure while they are developing their ideas — what they can, or should reveal, and what exposes them to risk.

A common hazard entrepreneurs face is IP infringement lawsuits from predatory actors, known as “patent trolls.” Tawfik explained it is crucial students seek support and educate themselves on IP law because for many tech companies, IP is their most important business asset.

New federal initiative

Minister Bains took the opportunity at Waterloo to announce a new four-year initiative led by a non-profit called Innovation Asset Collective. This project will help small to medium sized businesses manage their IP needs, including buying or licensing patents related to clean technology and data and establishing legal clinics.

Minister Bains told the crowd that the government recognized a need for more IP education, services and tools to support the growth of small and medium-sized companies in Canada.

“Only 10% of Canadian businesses have an IP strategy,” said Baines, “This needs to increase if we want to be more competitive and succeed internationally.”