Exclusive interview with Johanne Bélisle, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office

IPKat was honored to recently conduct an exclusive interview with Johanne Bélisle, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. We publish in its entirety this interview, which was in the format of providing written questions and receiving written responses.

1) Before we consider the Canadian Intellectual Property Office’s (CIPO) strategy statement, permit me to observe that for many non-Canadian IP practitioners, Canada’s IP law has had, I dare say, a certain quirkiness about it, at least in the sense that certain principles and practice seem exclusively Canadian. Is that view shared by the local Canadian IP community?

I cannot speak for all of Canada’s IP community, but CIPO strives to ensure that its administrative practices are up to date, consistent with and reflective of changing legislation, regulations and current Canadian jurisprudence. In this respect, Canada is generally acknowledged as having a modern IP system that is aligned with best practices across the globe. There are of course flexibilities in all national IP laws, but Canada is seen as a good place to file IP. For instance, Taylor Wessing’s Global Intellectual Property Index Fifth Report ranked Canada fourth in the world for IP-friendliness in 2016.

In addition, a 2016-2017 evaluation of CIPO’s patent services by the department that oversees our agency assessed their relevance and performance. That evaluation confirmed that the quality of Canadian patents compares well with those of our international counterparts. In addition, the length of time patent holders are choosing to maintain their patents suggests that Canadian patents are valued, especially by those interested in selling or manufacturing their products in Canada.

We know there is always more we can do. A key part of CIPO’s Five-Year Business Strategy (2017-2022) is our commitment to providing IP rights and services that reflect client expectations, market needs and respect the public interest. Our goal is to be recognized as a quality-based organization and we are proud of the fact that in March 2017, CIPO’s Patent Branch was awarded the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001:2015 certification. Achieving this certification will bolster marketplace confidence in the timeliness and quality of our products and services.

Building on this success, we intend to implement an organization-wide quality management system for all of our business lines that will further our efforts to be responsive to our clients' needs while making constant improvements to our service quality and cost-effectiveness.

2) The prime focus of the strategy statement seems to be improving innovation in Canada. Internationally there is a debate about the best role for government in the innovation process (choosing national winners, at one extreme, and allowing the market to be the sole determinant, on the other). What do you see as Canada’s approach to the issue?
The goal of the Government of Canada’s Innovation and Skills Plan is to make our country a global centre of innovation. The Plan recognizes that innovation happens in every sector of Canada’s economy and depends very much on the resourcefulness, creativity and drive of Canadians, as well as on collaboration between the public and private sectors. (Last sentence excerpted from July 5, 2017 Speech by the Honourable Navdeep Bains, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development.)

The Government has committed to several specific initiatives and investments to reach this goal: a national IP strategy; programs to enhance skills for Canadians; efforts to reduce the commercialization gap of university research; and making it easier for Canadian innovators to access and benefit from Government-led innovation programs.

3) Following on the previous question, what do you see as the particular role of CIPO in facilitating such innovation?
IP rights are a key enabler of innovation, facilitating technology investments and transactions as well as foreign direct investment, business partnerships and international trade. Therefore, a robust IP regime is essential to maximizing Canada's economic potential. A central objective of CIPO’s Five-Year Business Strategy is to support the Government’s Innovation and Skills Plan, by ensuring the right tools, resources and programs are in place for businesses to effectively leverage their IP at home and abroad.

Each of the priorities in our Five-Year Business Strategy reflects the fact that CIPO’s contribution to innovation lies not only in our efficient administration of high-quality IP rights, but in the strength and depth of our expertise. The five key priorities in our Business Strategy are:

• Help advance innovation by enhancing the IP system in Canada and globally;

• Continue to improve the quality, timeliness and efficiency of IP rights that we grant;

• Provide innovators in Canada with the IP knowledge they need to succeed;

• Offer a modern service experience that is responsive to clients’ needs; and,

• Foster an agile and high-performing organization.

4) In connection with your strategic goal of improving IP awareness and use, I found your data on the relatively low awareness of IP among Canadians to be striking (e.g., 83% stated that IP was not relevant to their businesses (from "Statistics Canada, Survey on Financing and Growth of SMEs, 2011"). What concrete plans have been implemented, or contemplated to be implemented, to address this challenge?
We know that having robust, innovation-focused IP laws is not enough to drive innovative outcomes. It’s also critical to ensure innovators know how to use the IP regime to grow to scale and compete internationally. Small and medium-sized businesses are important engines of the Canadian economy. But business owners who do not understand that IP is really about business will miss tremendous opportunities to make use of IP to generate even more revenue and drive enterprise growth.

Although there is low awareness of IP among Canadian businesses, evidence demonstrates that Canadian SMEs who hold formal IP are four times more likely to export; sixty-four percent more likely to be a high growth SME; and thirty-two percent more likely to seek financing.(Survey on financing and growth of SMEs, 2014.) So, the more you understand about IP, the more likely you are to succeed.

In May 2017, CIPO launched a comprehensive IP Awareness and Education Program to help bridge that knowledge gap. In particular, we are targeting high-growth sectors of the economy and SMEs that have the potential to scale up. And we are partnering with a range of organizations that are part of the innovation ecosystem in Canada.

There are three elements to the program: IP for Business, IP Academy, and IP Hub: IP for Business is a new suite of products and services to provide businesses with the tools and information they need to acquire, manage and leverage their IP assets. Some products that we have already launched include an IP Toolkit with information on the fundamentals of IP, guides for Doing Business Abroad, and an interactive IP Training game.

IP Academy is a suite of seminars and training services for businesses, partners, intermediaries, and other organizations who deal with innovators (for example, government organizations, incubators, and tech transfer offices). So far, we have conducted over 90 IP seminars on a range of subjects, from IP fundamentals to more detailed discussions of IP strategy. While still in the concept stage, IP Hub would be a digital platform to connect business and innovators with IP services in marketplace. It will connect with the new Innovation Canada website, which works as a one-stop shop for businesses to explore the wide range of government support, advice, and information available to them in Canada.

5) One specific goal of the strategy statement is for Canada to join and implement five international treaties. Once this takes place, do you foresee Canada enhancing its role in influencing the manner and direction of IP at the regional and international levels?

Canada already plays a significant role in this regard and we will continue to represent Canada's interests abroad, exchanging best practices, providing technical assistance and advancing international harmonization of the IP system. Multilaterally, Canada is actively involved in the development of norm-setting treaties on various IP topics at the World Intellectual Property Organization, and we are also actively engaged in the context of the World Trade Organization through implementation of the WTO Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) Agreement. In addition, we work closely with organizations such as the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) in order to support businesses operating globally.

Pursuing the inclusion of balanced IP rules in Canada’s trade agreements is another way that we support Canadians doing business abroad and encourage and attract investment at home. This is because Canada is a country which is deeply open to international trade and international commerce: we have free trade agreements with over 15 countries and international trade represents more than 60% of Canada's GDP.

Given the global nature of IP and the increasing value of IP rights as intangible assets for our businesses, we will continue to engage constructively with our major trading partners and other IPOs towards the negotiation of minimum and transparent IP standards and in partnership make continuous improvements to the functionality and transparency of the international IP system. Such efforts will go a long way in ensuring that not only Canadian, but all businesses, can grow, innovate, and succeed across international borders.

6) In 2014, Canada enacted significant changes to its trademark system, beginning with removing “use” as a requirement for registration. At the time, push back to these changes was expressed in several quarters. How have these changes been received by practitioners and administrative offices since their enactment?
The concept of trademark use in Canada is not being abandoned. Trademark owners will still be required to use their mark in order to maintain their registration and to enforce their trademark rights. In an attempt to reduce costs to business, the amendments were meant to remove an administrative requirement for businesses to file an unverified and unsworn statement, by way of a declaration of use, that they had started using their trademark in Canada. Note that the change is not yet in effect. As well, the regulations pertaining to the Madrid Protocol and providing for Canada’s adherence to the Singapore Treaty and the NICE Agreement are currently in the formal consultation process.

While commercial use remains a fundamental principle of the Canadian trademark system, an unsigned statement of use either before or after registration with no evidence behind it is considered to be of very little value to businesses. With respect to non-use of registered trademarks, section 45 non-proceedings have been strengthened, including making it more clear that the Registrar may commence these proceedings should the TM register become cluttered. Moreover, if the Registrar commences the proceeding, there would be no cost to business to initiate the case.

7) Having grown up in the Great Lakes region of the U.S. bordering on Canada, with hockey and maple syrup omnipresent, your country has always played an oversized role in my national imagination. How would you describe the main elements of “brand Canada”?
Canada is the best country in the world, in my opinion, for many reasons, including hockey and maple syrup!

When Canada was celebrating its 150th anniversary in 2017, our Prime Minister pointed to Canadians’ integrity, our compassion, and our never-ending desire to be better. He noted that Canada’s greatest pride is that you can come here from anywhere in the world, build a good life, and be part of our community.

With respect to “brand Canada” from CIPO’s perspective, we strive to be known as a modern, internationally-leading IP office, one that provides high-quality and timely rights and that serves its clients well. We are a trusted source of IP information and knowledge for Canadian businesses and innovators. And we work in partnership with others, including our international partners in the IP ecosystem, to help make Canada a global centre of innovation. Canada is already an attractive place for business, trade and innovation to flourish, and we continue to make it more attractive all the time.

Photo on lower left by Pmx, who has released it to the public domain.

Interview by Neil Wilkof
Exclusive interview with Johanne Bélisle, Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office Exclusive interview with Johanne Bélisle,  Chief Executive Officer of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office Reviewed by Neil Wilkof on Tuesday, February 27, 2018 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. With due respect it is not clear to me how Ms. Bélisle can make such a statement in answer to the first question when CIPO has actively implemented patent-unfriendly examination policies. These have been singled out in the national press as being essentially illegal according to the Supreme Court (c.f. Richard Owens' article in the Financial Post of December 13, 2017). The government's "Innovation and Skills Plan" does not apply to high tech or precision medicine inventions according to CIPO.


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