The economic crisis in 2008 undoubtedly had a negative effect on business innovation and research and development at a global scale. Canada was no exception and a tell-tale sign of the impact was a dramatic decrease in patent application filings in Canada in the years immediately after the event.

In Canada this decrease appears to have bottomed-out between 2011 and 2012. While the latest figures suggest that Canadian patent application filing numbers have not yet risen to pre-2008 levels, the trend does suggest that Canada is on the road to recovery. In fact, some industries appear to have remained relatively unaffected throughout this period, or at least have rebounded from the crisis.

Intellectual Property

The chemical industry, however, appears to be an exception. According to the statistics made available by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, the number of patent application filings in this field has been on a downward trend since peaking in 2007-2008.  A further dip in Canadian patent application filings in the chemical field was further observed in 2015-2016, when activity elsewhere might have led to expectations of an increase.

Total Patent Filings in Canada

The rate of patent filing in Canada has recovered from a drop after the 2008 financial crisis. Photo credit: Pablo Tseng

These observations are at odds with global statistics made available in a summary report published by the World Intellectual Property Organization. While this report merely provides statistics for the select years of 2005, 2010, and 2014, it nevertheless suggests a positive trend in chemistry-related patent application filings worldwide. Under the category of “food chemistry”, for example, patent filings worldwide more than doubled between 2004 and 2014. Similar growth is also found for filings under other headings, such as “materials, metallurgy” and “basic materials chemistry”.

There may be many factors leading to a downward trend in these Canadian patent application filings, including the misclassification of “chemical” innovations as “non-chemical” innovations. Innovators might also be choosing to publish their work in scientific literature as opposed to submitting to the costs of preparing, filing, and prosecuting a patent application. There could even be a decrease in foreign entities seeking protection for chemical innovations in Canada, as opposed to a decrease in innovation originating in Canada.

Total Patnet Filing per Sector

Although the number of Canadian patents being filed in most sectors has grown, chemistry has shown a decline. Photo credit: Pablo Tseng

However, Canada’s biotechnology, computer, and mechanical industries have not exhibited these trends. While filing statistics at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office do not necessarily provide a full picture of the health of an industry, they do serve as an indicator of the level of commercial innovation existing within a particular industry. In this way these numbers serve as a gauge of whether Canada continues to be a country where domestic and foreign entities want to do business, and where innovation, research, and development can thrive.  With the introduction of recent investment programs in Canada like the Strategic Innovation Fund and the Petrochemicals Diversification Fund, it will be interesting to see if chemistry-related patent filing trends improve in the coming years.

Pablo Tseng is an associate lawyer with McMillan LLP, a law firm serving a public, private, and not-for-profit clientele in Canada and around the world. Based in Vancouver, he is a Registered Patent Agent in Canada and the US, practising in intellectual property and business law.