"Waterloo Region – and the region’s tech sector – was basking in the spotlight Friday after a visit from Ontario’s Premier and two of his ministers, all on hand for the unveiling of several significant tech-related announcements:
- With Premier Doug Ford in attendance, The Canadian Shield – a spinoff company from InkSmith, which pivoted quickly to making personal protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic – announced it is expanding to produce disposable surgical masks, bolstering Canada’s domestic PPE supply chain. Two automated production lines will run 24/7 to meet a production quota of one million masks per week, eventually growing to 200 million masks annually.
- In the early afternoon, Ford was joined by Vic Fedeli, Ontario’s Minister of Economic Development and Ross Romano, Minister of Colleges and Universities, at Kitchener’s Medical Innovation Xchange, where they took the wraps off the province’s new Intellectual Property Action Plan, which aims to “drive the province’s long-term economic competitiveness by prioritizing the generation, protection and commercialization of intellectual property.” Fedeli and Romano later took part in an IP-related roundtable discussion at Communitech Friday afternoon, along with several local business and tech leaders.
- And finally the province announced the funding of 20 COVID-19 research and development projects at Ontario health-care facilities and universities through the $20-million Ontario COVID-19 Rapid Research Fund. The projects include one assigned to the University of Waterloo, which will develop a mathematical model of COVID-19 transmission to aid strategies for further re-opening Ontario’s economy without causing a resurgence of the virus.
The intellectual property announcement is designed to shore up Ontario’s and Canada’s IP commercialization numbers and keep value at home. It trails recommendations made in February by the Expert Panel on Intellectual Property, a group that includes former BlackBerry co-CEO Jim Balsillie. Balsillie is the co-founder and Chair of the Council of Canadian Innovators and founder and Chair of the Centre for International Governance Innovation in Waterloo.
A recent Association of University Technology Managers report states that Canadian academic institutions filed 687 patents, down from 790 in 2016 and the fewest since 2008.
On Thursday, BDC, the Business Development Bank of Canada, announced it has earmarked $160 million to support IP initiatives.
The IP afternoon roundtable at Communitech began with a presentation from Alexis Conrad Black, the federal government’s Intellectual Property Advisor, Ontario Region, who outlined Canada’s IP shortcomings in a series of slides, including the sobering statistics that only 14 per cent of Canadian companies performing research and development hold or use patents and that of the 33.8 per cent of companies that innovate, only nine per cent have an IP strategy.
“As Premier Ford said earlier today, we’ve got to stop having everybody take our intellectual property and bring it to the U.S. and overseas,” Fedeli told the other members of the roundtable. “It doesn't get any simpler.”
Besides Black, Fedeli and Romano, the roundtable was attended by Kitchener South-Hespeler MPP Amy Fee, Communitech Chair Dave Caputo, innovation economist and tech advisor Charles Plant and several local tech executives, including The Canadian Shield CEO Jeremy Hedges, ApplyBoard CEO Martin Basiri and Dejero Labs founder Bogdan Frusina. The event was hosted by Communitech VP External Relations Matt Bondy.
For The Canadian Shield, its expansion continues the remarkable growth and momentum parent company InkSmith established since pivoting from classroom tech kits to plastic face shields with only a handful of employees in March. The company now employs 300 people.
“We’ve invested heavily in PPE manufacturing to ensure that we as a nation can withstand any future health threats while reducing our dependence on global supply chains,” said Hedges. “We’re doing this to keep Canadians safe, to create good-paying manufacturing jobs and to be part of what we see as the beginning of a Made in Canada revolution.”
The Canadian Shield now produces more than 200,000 face shields per day and also makes cloth masks.
“The team at The Canadian Shield has produced products that are nothing short of inspirational in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic,” said Iain Klugman, President and CEO of Communitech. “Their made-in-Canada surgical mask line is an excellent next step that will help not only Ontario, but the entire world, as it recovers and reopens.”"