Understanding the Promise and Peril of Sovereign Patent Funds

Policy Brief No. 102

April 13, 2017

As part of the broader innovation agenda, it is often asserted that intellectual property (IP) rights play a central role in driving economic growth and enhancing innovation, although it must be acknowledged this proposition is not without controversy. Questions have been raised as to whether sovereign patent funds (SPFs) could be adapted in Canada as a next-generation policy response to contribute to the national or provincial innovation and economic development strategy. This policy brief introduces this new and under-researched topic and identifies areas of potential future research and analysis to support policy development for Canada’s IP and innovation strategy.

There is a need for more in-depth and interdisciplinary study of the phenomenon. Such research could develop valuable analytical policy frameworks for scholars and policy makers. This policy brief proceeds on the premise that integrating IP strategy into overall innovation policy is essential because of the importance of IP as a source of national economic development and the competitive nature of the global marketplace. The SPF forces scrutiny of this proposition and questions about the relative impact on innovation strategy of other forms of IP, such as copyright, trademarks and trade secrets, that are not covered by the SPF. With limited desire to interfere in the marketplace and limited resources, national governments must choose policy levers compatible with their overall innovation strategies, political systems and economies. It would be useful to do further economic, legal and policy research into whether some or all of the objectives of the SPF would be compatible with an integrated Canadian IP and innovation policy and what combination of public and private mechanisms might be best suited to the Canadian innovation ecosystem. In this regard, it would be particularly useful to study how desired objectives might be integrated into Canada’s strategic sectoral innovation clusters.

About the Author

Oonagh E. Fitzgerald was director of international law at CIGI from April 2014 to February 2020. In this role, she established and oversaw CIGI’s international law research agenda, which included policy-relevant research on issues of international economic law, environmental law, IP law and innovation, and Indigenous law.