Emerging technologies to mitigate environmental impact and even remediate harm that has already occurred, known colloquially as "cleantech", represent a potentially explosive growth opportunity for Canadian innovation.  Intellectual property rights, and in particular patent protection, can be an important asset for Canadian cleantech companies that can and should be leveraged as part of their business and growth strategy.  Patent rights can be valuable not only in excluding competitors and soliciting investment, but even in terms of marketing.  Patents can demonstrate that a company is on the cutting edge of sustainable technology.

Not only is increasing government regulation resulting in an increase in the demand for cleantech, there is also a concomitant increase in government and academic support for these initiatives.  Specifically, the Government of Canada is providing funding and academic support to advance Canada's cleantech sector.

Canadian funding and academic support

For example, the Government of Canada recently touted investments of $55.1 million into 20 Canadian companies in the cleantech space.  The investments were made through Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC), a flagship independent federal foundation aimed at providing not only funding but also supporting a connected cleantech ecosystem.

SDTC is just one example of Canadian government support for cleantech.  Both the Federal and Ontario government also provide funding to Bioenterprise, a national network that in turn provides funding to new and growing businesses operating in agri-food and agri-technology sectors.  Bioenterprise recently announced a partnership with Cleantech Commons at Trent University.  This new partnership will allow Cleantech Commons to provide its student entrepreneurs with accelerator services for their businesses.

The Government of Canada has also recognized the importance of intellectual property protection for cleantech innovations.  While there can be considerable delays in processing patent applications in Canada, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office has announced a program for advanced examination for green technologies.  Unlike the ordinary request for a "special order", no additional government fee is required.  Although they use the older term "green", the scope of the program broadly encompasses cleantech, as it is available for any "technology that if commercialized would help to resolve or mitigate environmental impacts or to conserve the natural environment or natural resources."  Instead of patent applicants waiting up to a year or more for substantive examination of their patent applications to begin, under this advanced examination program for cleantech, applicants can expect a first office action within three months.  This will allow them to protect their innovations sooner, and the grant of a patent in Canada can then be leveraged to accelerate prosecution of corresponding patent applications in other countries using the Patent Prosecution Highway.

What Canadian cleantech companies need to know about the advanced examination process

Although there are no restrictions on the particular area of technology, to be eligible the application must still relate to an innovation that, "if commercialized would help to resolve or mitigate environmental impacts or to conserve the natural environment or natural resources".  Although no government fee is required, if the application has not yet been laid open to the public (ordinarily 18 months after the earliest filing date), then a request for early laying open of the application must also be made.  While this will allow competitors to search for and read the application, the faster examination (and hopefully faster grant of a patent) resulting from advanced examination can make this a worthwhile trade-off.

The continuing development of cleantech represents an exciting opportunity for Canadian companies, with potential opportunities for growth well beyond Canadian borders.

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