Developing an intellectual property (IP) strategy can prove to be a daunting, costly process. If you're looking to protect and commercialize your IP, a government-sponsored program can help get you started – and cover some of the costs.

The IP Assist program – part of the National Research Council's Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP) – offers funding and consultation services for small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) looking to develop their IP strategies. To qualify, you must have operations in Canada and fewer than 500 employees, plan to grow your business through innovation and be an existing IRAP client.

How IP Assist works

IP Assist is a three-level program that must be completed in sequence.

  • Level 1: IP Awareness involves meeting with an IP professional to discuss IP fundamentals. You'll learn about different types of IP – such as patents, copyright, trademarks and trade secrets – as well as the basics of developing an IP strategy and best practices for SMEs. IRAP will cover the cost of this initial meeting.
  • Level 2: Strategy involves meeting with an IP professional to begin developing an IP strategy tailored to your business goals. This typically includes taking an inventory of your current IP and assessing the patentability of your IP and conducting trademark clearance searches, prior art searches and IP audits, looking at your competitors' IP and identifying gaps and opportunities to determine your IP strategy (including commercialization) moving forward. IRAP will cover a significant portion of the costs of this level.
  • Level 3: Action is when you begin to execute the IP strategy developed in level 2. The IP professional's focus here will be on working with you to draft the documents required to protect and commercialize your IP, including patent and/or trademark applications, trade secret policies and appropriate commercialization agreements. IRAP will cover a portion of the costs of this level.

Why do you need an IP strategy?

An IP strategy will provide the roadmap for the development, protection and commercialization of IP in a thorough and well planned manner. The IP strategy should be core to supporting business priorities over the medium to longer term. Whether the focus is to build value of the business for an IPO or other type of investment, or to protect the business from copycats, the IP strategy is an important component.

Some of your IP may be apparent – it could be your branding or technology you have developed – but you may not be aware of your other IP assets and the opportunities they present. You may also not be aware of your competitors' IP or that your IP might infringe theirs. Failing to protect your IP could leave you vulnerable to competitors.

IP professionals can assist you in identifying and evaluating potential IP and advise you on patentability, copyright, trademarks and potential infringement issues. They can draft licensing and other commercialization agreements to help you get the most out of your IP, help manage your IP portfolios and enforce your IP rights when they are infringed.

If you have employees or contractors who are actively involved in creating your IP, it's important to have written agreements in place that clearly spell out who owns the IP. An IP lawyer can advise you on drafting contracts that help ensure your organization actually owns the IP it creates. Similarly, an IP lawyer can advise you on collaboration agreements with other organizations to develop IP as well as confidentiality agreements designed to protect trade secrets and other confidential information.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.