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Ontario is launching a new agency to encourage the development, protection and commercialization of intellectual property in the province, in an effort to bolster its economy at a time when ideas and patents are increasingly concentrated in jurisdictions such as Silicon Valley and China.

The Globe and Mail first reported in 2019 that Doug Ford’s Progressive Conservative government had established a panel of intellectual property (IP) lawyers, professors and other experts to study how effectively Ontario-funded institutions, including universities, colleges and accelerators, were commercializing the ideas the institutions generated.

The province quietly published a new statute on its website this week creating a new agency called Intellectual Property Ontario. The government plans to use the agency to boost public access to resources about how IP such as patents can enhance economic competitiveness, and to help researchers, technologists and other Ontarians generating that IP to bring it to market. The agency will also advise the government on how to use IP to make Ontario more competitive.

Many of these ideas originated from a report the panel issued in early 2020 for Ontario’s Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade – which funds startup hubs – and the Ministry of Colleges and Universities.

“Canada is a laggard in the IP and data driven economy, so we need collective and strategic approaches to build capacity in short order to catch up and position both our businesses and knowledge generating ecosystems for global success,” Jim Balsillie, the panel’s chair and the former co-chief executive of Research in Motion Ltd., which changed its name to BlackBerry Ltd., said in an e-mail Friday. “Ontario has become a leader in Canada for raising awareness and building capacity for the IP and data driven economy.”

The Ontario government declined to comment. But as the new agency is described in the statute, it will take a less hawkish, value-for-money approach to provincially funded institutions than the panel initially did. Instead, the agency will dedicate resources to educating people coming up with ideas that could be patented, trademarked or turned into other forms of IP.

Myra Tawfik, a University of Windsor professor who specializes in intellectual-property law, and who sat on the panel, gave the example of a college student who came up with an idea for a new kind of personal protective equipment. Perhaps that student was not interested in turning it into a business, but a colleague of theirs was.

The agency, she said, could provide people at the college with educational tools to prevent losing an opportunity to patent the tech behind the PPE. That would help those people avoid giving away ideas – say, by presenting them at a conference before they were properly registered as IP.

“We were looking to create more awareness on campuses, particularly in research institutes, about being able to think about the IP consequences of what you’re doing, without necessarily saying you need to go out yourself to commercialize it,” Prof. Tawfik said in an interview.

The statute also says the agency will partner with domestic and international postsecondary institutions, and with business support groups, such as incubators and accelerators, to boost the province’s strengths around patents and other IP.

The federal government established an Innovation Asset Collective in 2019 with similar broad goals as the new Ontario agency, but the collective focuses on clean technology, and buys and licenses its members’ patents back to those members while protecting them against infringement lawsuits. It is also chaired by Mr. Balsillie.

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