Brion Raffoul Welcomes Leber IP Law to Ottawa

Brion Raffoul and Leber IP Law enjoyed a great evening at Captive Escape Rooms last night! Escape rooms are a great team building exercise that Brion Raffoul has used in the past. Everyone has to work together in a time crunch situation to escape!

Brion Raffoul was happy to welcome US Patent Attorneys Celia Leber and Dave Robertson to Ottawa and we wish them safe travels home.

The New Gold Rush: Open Innovation in Canada

“It’s impossible for any organization to have all the best ideas”

~ General Electric, Open Innovation Manifesto

Open Innovation as an R&D strategy may seem counter-intuitive; traditional corporate culture dictates the use of secret R&D labs that operate in an information silo. However, open innovation can offer many competitive advantages, such as complimenting your company’s internal skills and know-how with external knowledge and ideas, lowering R&D costs, and increasing differentiation in the market.

For example, in 2000, the Canadian gold mining company Goldcorp Inc. crowdsourced gold prospecting in an under-performing mine; Goldcorp knew they were sitting on a literal and figurative gold mine but their geologists could not find the main deposits of gold. Goldcorp created a challenge for the general public; they released all Goldcorp’s geological data (going back as far as 1948) and offered $575,000 in prize money to the innovators that could find the elusive gold deposits. At the time, this type of open innovation was contrary to traditional mining practices: Goldcorp was admitting they were unable to find the gold and was releasing all their proprietary data. However, Goldcorp’s challenge led to more than 110 gold deposits that yielded over $6 billion worth of gold.

So, if that doesn’t answer why open innovation is a worthy consideration for any business, consider that patent filings in Canada have not increased significantly in the past ten (10) years. However, this stagnation is not an issue of lack of funding. Indeed, statistics from Industry Canada indicate that Canada is second only to the United States when it comes to venture capitalist funding.


Collaboration between companies and with the public at large should be considered to invigorate innovation in Canada. In another successful example of open innovation, Bombardier held a contest to solicit urban mobility designs. They created a social media open innovation community integrated with live, offline workshops. The contest rules stipulated that the winners must transfer their IP to Bombardier in exchange for a small prize. Bombardier also kept a right of first refusal for a year for all non-winning ideas. By creating a community around innovation, even outside their company, Bombardier created a sense of self-determination and pride in the community, that resulted in innovation pouring into Bombardier. Indeed, Bombardier received input from 2,486 participants from 102 countries that contributed 4,239 designs, 25,979 evaluations, 8,565 comments and 3,445 messages on Bombardier’s proposed urban transportation projects. As a bonus to uncovering a gold mine of innovation, Bombardier customers were very receptive to their more open and customer-orientated brand.

However, it is important to note that “open” innovation does not necessarily mean the innovation is in the public domain; the devil is in the details. IP ownership provisions should be clearly outlined in an agreement between all involved parties. The following questions can be helpful in outlining the preferred ownership details:

  • Who will own the IP stemming from the project (foreground IP)?
    • What about jointly created IP (joint ownership/management of IP assets should be approached with caution)?
    • Consider motivation factor for crowdsourcing when innovators own their IP?
    • Does a royalty-free license in perpetuity make sense given the motivations of the IP owner (i.e., the company or the innovator)?
  • What IP do the innovators and the company already own (background IP)?
  • Who owns the feedback stemming from the project?
  • Should a right of first refusal be included for IP that is not exploited during the project?

The bottom line: open innovation can be a great way to invigorate innovation within your company without resorting to a significant increase in R&D funding.

Protecting Your Innovation: Improvement Patents

« Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. »

Blockchain, nanomaterials, AI, CRISPR – disruptive technologies can transform entire industries.  A common misconception is that patents are only for protecting cutting-edge and disruptive innovation. Indeed, only technology that is new and non-obvious can be protected by a patent. However, these requirements do not mean that only disruptive technologies can be protected. In fact, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) estimates that 90% of patents are for improvements to existing patented inventions. For example, a patent was granted this week for a bar of soap!

An improvement patent is based on technology that builds on a previous idea or invention – a better mouse trap if you will. An improvement patent does not give you the right to use the original patented invention as the patent holder can exclude others from using their invention. However, an improvement patent gives you the right to exclude others from using the improvement.

Exclusivity over the improvement can be a valuable defensive tool when faced with the threat of an infringement suit. Companies can avoid protracted and expensive patent litigation by aligning with would-be competitors or infringers and cross-licensing your technology with the patent holder of the original invention.
A cross-license is an agreement to grant mutual rights to each party’s respective patents.

A perfect example of a beneficial cross-licensing relationship is Google and Samsung Electronics, who signed a broad cross-licensing agreement in 2014. By joining forces, Google and Samsung Electronics mitigated their risk of infringement, allowing the companies to place a larger emphasis on innovation. Cross-licensing agreements are especially effective for companies that target different markets, creating a win-win for everyone.

Far too often companies underestimate the value of small improvements made to existing technology. By protecting incremental improvements, companies can bolster their IP portfolio and create new opportunities to license other technology.