Intelligence

Intellectual property should be retained in Canada, not commercialized by international companies, subscribers say

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Nearly half of The Logic’s subscribers think it is important for IP to be kept in Canada, instead of having international companies commercialize it, according to those who responded to The Logic’s August subscriber survey. Sixteen per cent said it is extremely important, while 32 per cent said it is somewhat important.

The results come amid a debate over how to encourage successful foreign-based companies to do work in Canada, while also ensuring domestic companies are able to grow. Some feel that we miss opportunities for job creation and revenue when intellectual property leaves the country, often through acquisition.

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Others, however, argue that what matters more is having big companies doing business in Canada, and that patents mean little on their own. About one-third of respondents said they believe it is unimportant to keep IP in Canada—11 per cent think it is somewhat unimportant; 22 per cent think it is extremely unimportant.

“The worst option is having no one develop it,” said one subscriber.

The federal government is currently holding country-wide consultations on the proposed creation of a national data strategy. Different interests have already begun to emerge. Large companies like Google want to make it easy for foreign companies to grow in Canada. Canadians such as Jim Balsillie, former co-CEO of BlackBerry, prefer Canadian companies receive more support to compete with their foreign counterparts. Meanwhile, privacy advocates want to know how policies, whichever form they take, will affect citizens and their data.

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In July, The Logic reported on a private presentation on the challenges faced by Canada’s tech sector prepared for Shopify CEO Tobias Lütke and John Knubley, deputy innovation minister. That presentation warned that intellectual property theft is “driving Canadian companies out of business.”

One subscriber commented that ideally, Canada would begin supporting more open and progressive IP policies, such as using Creative Commons licences, which allow otherwise copyrighted work to be distributed for free. However, they said that, ultimately, “IP being owned by international companies is akin to modern resource harvesting,” saying it is “profitable in the short term for the country, but has grave long-term consequences for the greater national ecosystem.”

Methodology

The results are from The Logic’s first subscriber survey. A private link was sent to subscribers by email and the survey was conducted online. All respondents were kept anonymous and duplicates were removed as needed. Our subscribers were asked to provide responses to a series of questions through a rating scale. The full text of this question was: “How important is retaining intellectual property in Canada as opposed to having international companies commercialize it?”

Several subscribers shared similar concerns. One commented in the survey: “Huawei’s harvesting of IP from universities across Canada is one example of the problem of letting international companies take IP developed here,” referring to a Globe and Mail investigation showing how the Chinese tech giant claimed IP rights for work that was done by Canadian researchers.

One reader noted that the debate around IP as it pertains to innovation in Canada goes well beyond the question of retaining patent licences in the country: “The creation of new products frequently depends on a mixture of proprietary, SEP [standard-essential patent] and licensed intellectual property,” they said. “Taking the stand that intellectual property remain in Canada is an extremely mercantilist and narrow-minded approach to the complexity of the intellectual property system.”

Another reader suggested a middle road that could potentially benefit both Canadian and foreign-based companies, saying: “Even if international companies are needed to commercialize, a nice trickle of royalties should be arranged and funneled into further public R&D to create an upward cycle.”