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Nortel patent sale shows need for Canadian intellectual property strategy

The Harper government caused an international stir last year when it used the Investment Canada Act to block the takeover of Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan by an Australian company. Yet the sale of a rich trove of Nortel Networks patents this summer, to a consortium made up almost entirely of foreign companies, passed with little discussion in Ottawa.

The silence demonstrates why Canada badly needs a homegrown strategy to make the most of its intellectual property. Right now, there isn't one.

If the federal government was willing to block the sale of Potash Corp., it should also have reviewed the Nortel deal, argues Karen Mazurkewich of the Canadian International Council.

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"If we still have an investment review process, and we think that's important for Canada, maybe we should have an investment review when big batches of patents are sold," she said.

But controlling the flow of IP isn't as simple as blocking foreign sales. At least part of the solution is to create an environment where good ideas become patents, which stay in the country long enough to build strong and successful companies.

That could involve creating a vehicle similar to a sovereign wealth fund for patents – a pool of intellectual property that would be licensed around the world and pump royalty revenue back into promising Canadian companies. "Let's be smart about our IP and exploit our IP so that we build better companies," Ms. Mazurkewich said.

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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