As the old adage goes, all good things must come to an end.  And so, with some sadness, I report that this will be the final Intellectual Matters. In my first column several years ago, I mentioned that one of my goals for writing a column in each issue of the Canadian Chemical News (ACCN) was to impress upon the readers the value of intellectual property. Having knowledge of the quality of chemical research that is performed across Canada today, I hope that I have accomplished that goal.
As I stated in that initial column, it is difficult to build innovative companies without a strong intellectual property foundation. In today’s competitive world, this is true now more than ever. A few months ago, I attended a seminar in which an investor discussed how his firm conducts due diligence on small innovative companies who are looking to attract investment.  When deciding to invest, one of the first aspects his firm investigates is whether the technology had been protected. If you’ve ever watched Dragon’s Den or Shark Tank, you’ll know how concerned the investors are with the ability for competitors to copy exciting new technologies.  It’s almost trite to say that it can become much easier to attract investments once the technology has been protected.

The investor at this seminar also mentioned that for a company in its infancy, his primary concern was whether the technology had been protected in the United States and, to some extent, in Canada. The reason for this is simple: the US is the richest single market in the world. There are plenty of opportunities for success in this market alone. Why do I mention this? You have probably heard that the costs associated with patenting a technology can be very high, which to a certain extent is true. Patenting a technology globally can be extremely expensive. However, from a cost perspective, obtaining patent protection in only the US and Canada can be quite reasonable and having issued patents from these jurisdictions will open up many doors. Addressing your intellectual property needs early also signals to an investor that the company is sophisticated and thinking about long-term prospects and success. If you’re part of a small innovative company just starting out, intellectual property shouldn’t be viewed as a luxury that will be addressed when it becomes profitable. Intellectual property should be viewed as critical to the success of the enterprise. Without a strategy to protect your core technologies, investors will be very wary that the technology could be easily copied and would therefore be difficult to recoup any investments. In addition to attracting investments, there are numerous others reasons why inventors should consider protecting their technologies. Patents can be monetized by either selling or licensing the patented technology thereby generating revenue streams for the business.  Furthermore, patents can also be used defensively, in which a company being sued for infringement can countersue using its own patents in an effort to force a settlement and avoid costly litigation.  

Over the past few years in this column, there is a reason why I have kept reiterating the importance of intellectual property. I love the stories and the details of the chemical research and development that is occurring in Canada. As a nation, we clearly have the foundation for a true knowledge economy to take us well into the 21st century. From medical science to industrial and environmental chemistry, I marvel at the accounts of chemical research that are found in each issue of ACCN. In the last issue alone, there were fascinating reports of silicon and its possible applications in treating cancer, fighting greenhouse gases or detecting explosives. Another story detailed batteries based on vitamin B2. We clearly have the knowledge; we just need to take that extra step. 

So as I sign off for the last time, I hope I’ve impressed upon you the importance of intellectual property. As Canadians, we can be modest but we shouldn’t sell ourselves short.  There is immense value in all of this research and development. So, as I stated in my first column, capture the commercial benefits of your innovation and don’t let them slip away!  

Mike Fenwick is a patent lawyer with Bereskin and Parr LLP in Toronto and holds a master’s degree in organic chemistry.