The government of Canada funds various programs to help Canadian innovators retain ownership of their creations. A recent editorial in the Globe and Mail attacked these IP programs and software patents. The opinion was less original than the stock image that accompanied the piece and way less helpful. There are very good reasons for Canadian innovators, and Canadian collectively, to support these programs.
The author’s thesis appears to be that “recently launched government IP programs”, which are “effusive[ly]” supported by national leaders, rest on the assumption that “software patents are important for the success of a technology business”. The author provides one example Shopify that didn’t need patents to successfully go public. Then, he adds IBM’s 626M$ in annual IP licensing revenue is “immaterial”, and some useful discussion about how software companies work. For more see Boosting patents won’t solve Canada’s innovation problem.
In defence of Canadians owning their inventions
These IP programs are great. Canadians owning IP helps the country by preventing the all too common situation of being a profit center in a multinational where your innovations and revenue are unequally shared with employees, owners, and tax collectors outside of Canada. Such a situation is unfair to Canadians – it robs the workers of rewards and us all collectively of tax revenue.
The IP Assist program run by the Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) is particularly helpful to Canadians. They enable innovators to learn about the IP rights relevant to their business and then build useful IP plans. Nothing in this program limits participation to software creators nor patent rights.
We at Perpetual Motion Patents are very proud of the IP strategy work we do for our clients. After a few meetings our clients understand what IP rights are relevant to their business. It is totally possible that a client doesn’t need a patent. In such a case we wouldn’t suggest it. The point of the exercise is holistic IP protection. It is rare that we ever suggest someone only use one form of IP or avoid one form all together — Integrated Circuit Topographies excepted.
The opinion piece had a few curious comments that are misleading or suggest the author has overlooked some opportunities.
The author misleads when he uses relative amounts to characterize IP position. See above where 626M$ is held out as immaterial. Sure it only 1% of IBM’s revenues or a yearly amount that most SaaS companies can only dream of. The author is correct in that in 2015 Shopify didn’t have many patents or applications. Then they held were roughly 40 families filed or that is about 10% of their current portfolio. But 40 families is a healthy portfolio. Most Canadian firms would see 50 patents and 500M$ in annual revenue as … words fail me sometimes … success.
The opinion piece had a few curious comments that suggest the author has overlooked some opportunities. For example, “defocusing engineers and founders away from building software to interface with … patent agents is hard to justify.” That suggests he has no experience with a patent agency that respects its clients’ time. He adds “it is very difficult to know which iteration [of a software product] is worth patenting”. That speaks to a lack of IP education and IP management.
The author doesn’t say so but seems to suggest that money could be better spent elsewhere. That is entirely true. It always depends on the circumstances. But remember writing and prosecuting patent applications for D-Wave Systems from 2001 – 2005. For very little money, Jeremy Hilton, Brock Wilson, Yutian Ling, David Grant, and I created the base of the leading patent portfolio in quantum computing. Business Objects and Ballard have used a similar model with amazing return on investment.
The author notes the link between innovation as measured by patents and commercial success is weak. That comply misses the point. Patents aren’t an indicator of innovation they are an exclusive right to the innovation. It is more about ownership than recognition.
Other blog posts on IP management
IP management is tricky. Often it is given to someone who simply doesn’t have the time for the activity. Perpetual Motion Patents is proud of the support we give our clients to learn how to manage their IP programs. Indeed perpetual means many things including self-sustaining.
For more information in IP management see
- Get what every innovative organization needs: an IP plan at zero cost
- Patents: When do you do it yourself?
- Three ways to handle patent fee changes this year
- Lower your risk from open-source free software in three steps
- Create your own file number system to grow with your IP program
Thank you to my friend Roch Ripley, a wonderful patent agent, for sharing his thought on this editorial. For his thoughts see his LinkedIn post. Thank you to the author of the editorial for sharing his views in a journal of record. Of course we don’t agree but it takes time write and bravery to share your views.
The principals at Perpetual Motion Patents have extensive experience as in-house IP managers. If you would like help defining IP plans for your organisation please do contact us.