Canada trails behind industrialized nations such as the United States, Japan, Switzerland, and the 27 member countries of the EU when it comes to the strength of its IP standards in life sciences or any other sector.
It has been said by some that fear is the enemy of innovation. This is absolutely true about the fears being stoked by Canada's generic drug industry and others in their misguided efforts to derail the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement ("CETA") negotiations because of proposed improvements to intellectual property ("IP") standards. Estimating the extent to which EU negotiating proposals will increase Canadian health-care costs from a zerosum perspective (i.e. an EU gain is Canada's loss) reflects outdated trade, economic, and health policy thinking. The issue is not that Canada-EU negotiations include proposals to strengthen IP protection in Canada in the area of copyright, patents, life sciences, and elsewhere. The real problem lies more in the fact that the EU has had to make such proposals in the first place.
Having best-in-class IP protection is a key ingredient to increasing innovation and knowledge-based activity in Canada. Taking a leadership role internationally on IP protection, together with other important initiatives including those that are for the private sector to take as opposed to the government, is what will drive Canada's future prosperity and drive Canada's future job growth. The challenge therefore is not whether to choose lower health-care costs at the expense of higher IP protection or vice versa. Rather, it is to develop and adopt the right government policies to achieve both outcomes at the same time.
Generally speaking, the EU is a champion of stronger IP protections internationally. Yet no one would suggest that the EU provides anything but world-class health care to its citizens or that European policy-makers and taxpayers attach less importance to public health care and other social programs than they do to economic policy and innovation. Similarly, no one could credibly argue that Canada's public health-care cost challenges differ in any way from those of the EU or any other industrialized country with an aging population. The real issue then is to determine why—all other things being equal—Canada trails behind industrialized nations such as the United States, Japan, Switzerland, and the 27 member countries of the EU when it comes to the strength of its IP standards in life sciences or any other sector.
Clearly, innovative trade and economic policy is required to foster innovation in Canada. As a nation facing new and intense competition from emerging markets such as China, India, and Brazil, maintaining the status quo position of relying on international IP provisions developed in trade negotiations nearly 20 years ago is not an option. Already, China is reported as having adopted an innovation strategy that aims to dramatically increase research and development activity with a view to achieving a patent filing rate by 2015 of two million per year. ("When Innovation, Too, Is Made in China," the New York Times, Jan. 1, 2011.) To this point, the Coalition for Action on Innovation in Canada, of which I am a member, reported on Oct. 13 of last year that Canada cannot hope to prosper in the face of this increasing global competition by "doing what we have always done."
To the contrary, and with an eye to our economy in 10, 20, and 50 years from now, Canada needs to become a champion of stronger IP standards at the World Intellectual Property Organization, at the World Trade Organization, in the NAFTA, and in all other ongoing and future bilateral trade initiatives including those with the EU and India.
Canada should on its own initiative strive to adopt the world's strongest IP regime and aim for a reputation as the best place in the world to conduct research and development and to produce the latest cutting-edge products and content. As a first step in this direction, the federal government must reconcile Canada's current trade and IP policy with the many other important efforts the government has already made (and that other provinces, territories and cities have already made) to foster and increase innovation in Canada and to attract and retain investments in knowledge-based activity. The Canada-EU CETA negotiations have been billed as establishing a model trade agreement for the 21st Century. There would appear to be no better time than the present and no better opportunity than through these negotiations to begin this much-needed work.
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