Promoting IP Awareness Through Mandatory Modules

Promoting IP Awareness Through Mandatory Modules

Jaime Zorrilla is an IP Innovation Clinic Fellow and a 2L JD/MBA Student at Osgoode Hall Law School & the Schulich School of Business. This article was written as a requirement for Prof. Pina D’Agostino’s Directed Reading: IP Innovation Program course.

After inviting public and stakeholder feedback in 2020, the Ontario Government commissioned the Report by the Expert Panel on Intellectual Property. The Report found significant deficits in IP related outcomes. While the Ontario government has introduced courses to raise IP awareness, making these courses at least partially mandatory might better address the Panel’s Recommendations.

The report identified several issues in Ontario’s attempt to become a hub for IP creation. Patents filed by researchers with at least one Canadian inventor are assigned to firms outside of Canada or to foreign subsidiaries operating within Canada. Further, of the patents that are assigned to Canadian inventors, a significant percentage are subsequently assigned to foreign entities. Fostering even more IP creation has become a focus of the Ontario Government. 

So far, the province has taken meaningful steps to address these deficits in education and governance contexts. Notably, the Expert Panel’s recommendations included a call for a standardized, free, or low cost, web-based IP education curriculum. The Ontario Government has worked with the University of Toronto and the Centre for International Governance Innovation to launch two IP courses. Missing, however, is the second part of the Expert Panel’s recommendations – that engaging with these modules or curricula be “mandatory for any individual or entity who receives public funds in support of entrepreneurial activities”.

On the one hand, requiring founders to take a course can delay and complicate the launch of a successful venture. Failing a module could play a detrimental role in determining whether a particular venture gets access to additional resources from universities, accelerators or even funding partners. Additionally, the length of such a module could dissuade innovators from seeking out resources or help from these institutions.

Still, the potential payoffs are significant. The report identified benefits in proliferating IP in the province:

The easiest way to promote IP awareness would be ensuring the module is simple to take; however, a course which is too rudimentary may prevent innovators and SMEs from being well appraised to best spot opportunities to commercialize new IP within their own businesses.

A two-pronged strategy might be preferable. Requiring that SMEs who receive government funding from grants or loans or who participate in commercialization aides such as accelerators or university programs take the existing module could meaningfully promote a baseline level of IP awareness. In addition, the Ontario Government could promote even greater familiarity with IP concepts by setting and enforcing targets for completion of levels two and three of these modules, potentially contingent on some degree of support by the province and its related agencies. The module established at the University of Toronto has, for example, developed additional modules on the value of various types of IP and the process of actually applying for a patent.

The latest development from the Expert Panel’s Report came in March when the Ontario Government officially launched Intellectual Property Ontario based in no small part from a recommendation by the panel’s Report. The new agency has so far identified IP education and awareness as one of its priorities. By working alone or with the province, implementing some form of mandatory training can go a long way to promoting IP awareness among inventors.