Carleton University and a leading Ottawa patent and trademark firm have launched a program aimed at teaching local tech firms how to protect some of their most precious, yet often overlooked, assets – intellectual property.
The Certificate in IP Strategy is being offered through Carleton’s Sprott School of Business. Stratford Intellectual Property helped design the curriculum, and its employees are teaching the 14-week program, which began on Wednesday.
Sandra Crocker, Carleton’s associate vice-president of strategic initiatives and operations, says that while patents and other forms of IP are a fundamental component of every technology startup, most founders understand little about managing intellectual property beyond the nuts and bolts of filing a patent or trademark.
“Most of the programs that are out there are a three-hour seminar on patents 101,” she says. “We didn’t see anything that really talked about, ‘What is the value of IP to your company and how do you exploit and protect that value?’”
The university hopes to change that with the new online offering. Topics covered in the weekly modules include drafting legal agreements to maintain control of IP, monetizing patented innovations and protecting trade secrets, “which people don’t understand terribly well,” according to Crocker.
Lack of IP strategies costly
As a final task, all participants will be required to map out an IP strategy for their company. That’s something many tech entrepreneurs fail to do at the outset of launching a business, notes Stratford Intellectual Property president Natalie Giroux – an oversight that too often ends up costing them dearly in the long run.
“The big problem with IP is that entrepreneurs don’t know what they don’t know,” Giroux says.
IP is big business in Canada, with nearly 160,000 applications for patents, trademarks and industrial designs filed each year.
Yet Giroux says many founders “don’t understand enough to see the value for them. They just do the basic, ‘Let’s file a patent and have a trademark’ and they think they’re covered. But there's so much more than that.”
The new course comes as governments across the country are making the creation and protection of IP a higher priority.
The federal government, for example, has pledged millions of dollars to create a long-term IP strategy for Canada, which has traditionally lagged behind the United States in generating and retaining intellectual property. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office, an agency of the federal Ministry of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, was involved in developing Carleton’s new program.
At the provincial level, the Ontario government created a task force last year to look at ways of better educating SMEs on the importance of IP.
Carleton’s first cohort includes 13 tech firms from Ottawa and the surrounding area, varying in size from two-person startups to well-established companies with thousands of employees. The university is covering all the costs of the inaugural course but is hoping to secure federal and provincial funding for future editions.
Crocker says the program is already generating a buzz, noting that more than a dozen companies are on a waiting list for the next course.
The curriculum could eventually be expanded to cover other industries beyond tech, Giroux adds.
“If you think about a restaurant, they will have trademarks, they will have copyrights, they will have trade secrets,” she says.