Jim Balsillie is co-founder of the Institute of New Economic Thinking and former chairman and co-CEO of Research in Motion.
Over the past 30 years, technological advances and their economic benefits became rooted in the new rule-of-law framework that allowed for innovation to occur and get to the market. That new global economic framework is based on intellectual-property rights (IPR). Today, intellectual property (IP) is the world's most valuable corporate asset and the companies that own the most IP are the most valuable entities in the world. IP began as an incentive for inventors, then shifted to a tradeable commodity and then, most recently, to a business investment protected by investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms.
Countries that saw these shifts happening over the past three decades upgraded their policy tools by focusing on the IP ownership in their firms and by creating a policy infrastructure to facilitate their prosperity in the 21st century. Canada's unfettered reliance on outdated economic theories, and on experts who did not update their understanding of how the knowledge economy works, continues to interfere with creating policy infrastructure strategies for our 21st-century prosperity.
Among Canada's high-growth companies, there is a reckoning that without a strategic IP portfolio, there is no "freedom-to-operate" strategy, which is a requirement for scaling up globally. There is also recognition that IP generated and paid for by Canadian taxpayers should stay in Canada and benefit the Canadian economy rather than the economies of foreign countries.
That the most recent federal budget called for a national IP strategy is a good sign that the government is finally contemplating a break away from the Jurassic-period policy ideas that have stifled our innovation outcomes. Whether Canadian policy and business elites will recognize the global economy has changed and that the 21st century requires different approaches from the 19th and 20th centuries remains an open question.