‘IP literacy is not just for lawyers’ – education systems in Canada and elsewhere need to step up now

The education system needs to do a better job of fostering literacy associated with creations of the mind, not just for the next generation of inventors, designers and authors, but for anyone who wishes to participate meaningfully in society.

That is the wisdom of two Senior Fellows at the Centre for International Governance and Innovation (CIGI), Karima Bawa and Myra Tawfik, a global think-tank based in Canada.

Bawa and Tawfik told IP CloseUp in a phone call that a new kind of arms race to the top is being led by intellectual property, and “that creators, users and businesses in Canada and other nations need to step up their game in the area of IP literacy or be left behind.”

Professor Tawfik, who is EPICentre Professor of IP Commercialization and Strategy at the University of Windsor, and Ms. Bawa, who previously served as chief legal counsel at Research In Motion (now Blackberry), said that understanding IP basics is not only for the next generation of creators, but also for users and investors who need be aware of how IP rights operate and are valued.

“Businesses must first develop a profound understanding of IP rights themselves and the ways in which they can be strategically deployed,” they wrote in a recent Globe and Mail article. “Canadian IP-intensive companies have to have sophisticated levels of IP literacy. Unfortunately, our current IP education system does not foster that kind of literacy.”

The CIGI fellows state that there needs to be a dramatic shift in attitude and time is not on our side. “While, training lawyers in IP is essential, lawyers are not the most important recipients of this knowledge. IP education needs to pervade the entire innovation ecosystem, and it must focus especially on expanding the IP knowledge and skills of Canadian innovators.”

“Specifically, IP education has to extend outside of the law school setting. Raising the levels of IP awareness should start within the school setting but at the very least should extend into every discipline within the postsecondary setting.”

Increasing Impact

“Intellectual property education is becoming crucial to your career as an entrepreneur,” wrote David Pridham, CEO of Dominion Harbor Group, in a recent Forbes column. “Intellectual property (IP) now accounts for a whopping 38.2% of total U.S. GDP — that’s over $6 trillion a year, or more than any other nation’s entire GDP except China’s — and a surprising 30% of total national employment.”

Marshall Phelps, former VP of IP Business & Strategy at Microsoft and IBM and a board member of the Center for Intellectual Property Understanding (CIPU), put it another way: “Any young person who doesn’t grasp at least the basics of intellectual property may find him or herself at a major disadvantage in the world of tomorrow.”


The Center for IP Understanding, an independent non-profit, believes there is a disconnect between IP awareness and understanding. The result is a profound mis-appreciation for what IP rights are, what they achieve and how — another impact of the disconnect is increased theft.

The CIGI fellows are spot-on suggesting that Canada and others do not raise a generation of IP doubters (if not illiterates) – businesses as well as individuals – who believe the IP rights, patents, copyrights, trademarks and trade secrets, are “the enemy” and they are free to poach whatever they can get away with.

Rising to the challenge means starting early and employing innovative approaches to inform key audiences. CIPU works with a number of IP and other organizations engaged in the IP literacy struggle, and is building an IP education resource center targeted to educators, students, entrepreneurs and investors.

For The Globe and Mail article, go here.

For more information about CIGI and the work it does in IP literacy, go here.

Image source: smartprimaryed.com; cigionline.org

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