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Protecting Intellectual Property: The Secret Sauce to Canadian Startup Success

Sponsored by:
Sponsored by:

Alexis Conrad

Principal IP Advisor, Strategic Initiatives, Communitech

Sonya Shorey

Interim President & CEO, Invest Ottawa

Joelle Foster

President & CEO, North Forge Technology Exchange

Nick Calvert

Co-founder & CEO, Yellowbird Diagnostics Inc. 

Tech startup supporter, Communitech, has all the resources startups need to defend their innovative ideas in the digital age.

The modern day tech scene sets a stage for innovators to be successful digital pioneers. But before they dive headfirst and share their brilliant solutions with the world, they need to suit up with some pretty strong armour: intellectual property protection.

Intellectual property (IP) can make or break a startup’s success. It’s key to protecting innovations, securing market position early, and attracting investment.


What is intellectual property?

With the tech ecosystem evolving at lightning speed, the importance of IP has never been more pronounced. Research shows that businesses that manage their IP strategically are more likely to grow domestically and internationally, and grow at a higher rate. 

“You wouldn’t build on land without securing it,” said Alexis Conrad, Principal IP Advisor, Communitech. “Similarly, developing proprietary technologies without safeguards can leave them vulnerable. Whether you’re protecting ideas or asserting your rights, knowing the boundaries of your IP is key to building a solid foundation for your business.”

IP protection includes trademarks – symbols, logos, or phrases used to distinguish goods or services of one party from those of others. Copyright ensures exclusive rights are granted to creators of original works. Patents give exclusive rights to inventors for new inventions, processes, or products. Industrial design (design patents south of the border) are similar to patents with a lens for aesthetic features.  Lastly, trade secrets protect confidential information that provide a company a competitive advantage only when kept secret to maintain its value.

How IP protection secures success

Investors are increasingly focused on startups with strong IP portfolios, recognizing the value of proprietary technology and market exclusivity. By securing IP rights, startups can attract funding, partnerships, and acquisition opportunities, fuelling their growth.  IP also encourages innovation by incentivizing companies to invest in research and development, knowing their inventions will be protected from unauthorized use or imitation.

IP protection challenges

In a globalized economy, Canada’s approach to IP is increasingly important, as it directly impacts the country’s competitiveness and economic growth. 

There’s a big knowledge gap, however, when it comes to IP business strategy and implementation. According to the Government of Canada’s Intellectual Property Office, only 17 per cent of companies say IP protection is needed, and only nine per cent of innovative companies say they have an IP strategy. Another barrier is cost.

“For some startups, affordability can be a challenge when it comes to IP,” said Conrad. “If this is a big enough barrier, they’re likely to leave ideas and innovations on the table for others to take.”

A nationwide initiative

Communitech, in partnership with Invest Ottawa and North Forge Technology Exchange, plays a significant role in supporting startups with their IP needs. Through programs like ElevateIP, startups are provided with the tools, resources, and expertise to identify and protect their assets.

ElevateIP is a nationwide initiative funded through Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada. It was announced in the 2021 federal budget, which included a commitment for $90 million over four years, starting in 2022-2023. Communitech was one of five regional organizations across Canada chosen to deliver the programming and is working with Invest Ottawa, North Forge Technology Exchange and other partners to design and deliver ElevateIP programming in Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

The last thing startups need are financial roadblocks standing in the way of their ground-breaking ideas. 

“IP is one of the secret ingredients for sustainable growth and can be a key element of long-term success,” said Sonya Shorey, Interim President and CEO, Invest Ottawa. “With the right support, founders can use the power of IP to break into new markets, strategically differentiate their offering, and boost their bottom line. Improved access to resources and support is critical because it paves the way for continuous growth, a global competitive edge, and protection from competition.”

“The last thing startups need are financial roadblocks standing in the way of their ground-breaking ideas. By helping companies protect their innovations and mitigate risks with confidence, we’re setting them up for success and will undoubtedly see an even bigger wave of creativity and entrepreneurship across the country in the coming years,” said Joelle Foster, President and CEO of North Forge Technology Exchange. 

IP is critical to success for startups like Yellowbird Diagnostics Inc., which specializes in biomedical imaging solutions across commonly used clinical imaging technologies. The startup filed unique patents for each of its products, knowing its findings would eventually have real commercial value.

“Our IP advisor at Invest Ottawa guided us through the whole process, which was helpful for us because we don’t know what a good deal looks like,” said Nick Calvert, co-founder and CEO, Yellowbird Diagnostics Inc. “We’re scientists by trade, so these legal questions are not our wheelhouse. But we did know that if you make the wrong deal along the way, it can kill the company. One of the biggest fears I had about assigning these patents was whether I’d be able to afford them all.”

Looking ahead

By understanding the importance of IP and tapping into available resources, startups will see long-term growth, innovation, and success.

“ElevateIP is helping us work with tech companies to ensure IP created in Canada ultimately contributes to economic and social benefits,” said Conrad. “We need to keep talent and IP ownership in Canada to thrive.” 

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