Waterloo Region’s well-established tech ecosystem positions this area to be a major player in helping Ontario strengthen its medtech and PPE industries, says Vic Fedeli, Minister of Economic Development, Job Creation, and Trade.

“The ecosystem that you have already built in (Waterloo Region) – to me, that is one of the biggest pluses,” Fedeli said in an interview today, just prior to participating in a virtual roundtable discussion on medical technology (medtech) and personal protective equipment (PPE).

The event, hosted by Communitech, brought Fedeli together with a number of medtech entrepreneurs, health-care executives, tech-industry advocates and economic development officials.

Medtech is a fast-growing segment of the local tech community, with more than 130 health-based technology companies now operating in Waterloo Region.

Some, like Intellijoint Surgical, were launched as medtech enterprises. Others, like PPE manufacturer The Canadian Shield, arose from non-medtech parent companies that pivoted their expertise in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

A key topic discussed during the roundtable was the intersection between supply chains, intellectual property (IP) and product standards.

A lack of official Canadian standards for medtech and PPE products hampers the ability of domestic manufacturers to compete with international rivals, both within Canada and in international markets. The lack of Canadian standards also makes it difficult for customers – especially public health-care organizations – to demonstrate to their stakeholders that the Canadian-made products they’d like to purchase meet acceptable safety standards.

“When you own the standards, you own the concept of regulatory capture,” said Alexis Black, an intellectual property advisor with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. “And when you own regulatory capture, you create more high-skill jobs because your product becomes in-demand globally, not just in your backyard.”

Black and others emphasized the need to own the intellectual property behind medtech and PPE products in order to be able to set the standards.

“If you don’t have the intellectual property, it is impossible to set the standards,” Black said. “That is a big takeaway for anyone who’s not familiar with the concept.”

Entrepreneur Jeremy Hedges agreed.

“Canadian intellectual property needs to drive standard-setting moving forward,” said Hedges, founder and President of Inksmith and its subsidiary, The Canadian Shield. “There is a huge opportunity to take a more aggressive approach federally. Critically, that should include industry representation at the table. This is something we need to expedite because the sooner we can set standards, the sooner we can create a level playing field for Canadian manufacturers and set up the business environment for us to thrive.”

Hedges offered an example.

“If we could build up Canadian intellectual property in compostable materials, and we can make compostable masks and respirators and gowns, and build that into a Canadian standard, now we’ve got something that we can differentiate ourselves globally. Right now, we rely on American standards; we really should have our own and those standards should differentiate our businesses.”

Armen Bakirtzian, co-founder and CEO of Intellijoint Surgical, said it is critical to keep homegrown companies and their IP in Ontario.

“I think that’s ultimately what our goal should be: to domicile the IP here and let people rent it and bring in cash into our country, into our province, and export the right to rent these ideas,” he said.

Fedeli said the Ontario government is aligned with such ideas. The province recently developed an Intellectual Property Action Plan.

“Our government’s Intellectual Property Action Plan strengthens Ontario’s IP position, (which is) critical to our economic recovery. It will help Ontario businesses, startups, entrepreneurs and researchers better protect and bring their ideas to market. We think that will contribute to Ontario’s resiliency. The goal of the plan is simple: to drive long-term economic competitiveness.”

Both Fedeli and the other participants stressed the need for all players to work together now to ensure that Ontario is prepared to embrace the opportunities that will arise once the COVID-19 pandemic subsides.

“We’re all working to help Ontario to win in the long-term,” said Matt Bondy, Vice-President of External Relations for Communitech and moderator of the roundtable discussion.