NAFTA: Pro­tect patents, Bal­sil­lie ad­vises Ot­tawa

The Hamilton Spectator - - CANADA & WORLD - ANDY BLATCHFORD

OT­TAWA — The fed­eral gov­ern­ment is fac­ing calls, in­clud­ing warnings from Black­Berry’s former co-CEO, to be par­tic­u­larly vig­i­lant when the up­com­ing NAFTA talks shift to in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.

In­tel­lec­tual prop­erty, or IP, is about own­ing, pro­tect­ing and mak­ing money from an idea in any sec­tor via tools like patents or copy­rights, viewed by many as a cru­cial com­po­nent of the ex­pand­ing, and in­creas­ingly im­por­tant, knowl­edge-based econ­omy.

And it’s go­ing to have a role in NAFTA talks, so with the start of the trade pact’s rene­go­ti­a­tion only a few weeks away, ex­perts like Jim Bal­sil­lie are urg­ing the feds to arm them­selves with eco­nomic mod­els de­tail­ing the im­por­tance of IP to Canada’s fu­ture.

Bal­sil­lie, who’s pro­vided pre-NAFTA ad­vice to Ot­tawa, said in an in­ter­view that the mod­els could serve as key bar­gain­ing chips, es­pe­cially if they show any IP pro­vi­sions sought by the U.S. could re­sult in big costs for the Cana­dian econ­omy.

“Trade agree­ments are sup­posed to be mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial,” said Bal­sil­lie, who is chair of the Coun­cil of Cana­dian In­no­va­tors.

“Do the math and if it’s not a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial agree­ment don’t sign it. There has to be some­thing for Canada’s econ­omy — it can­not be win­ner take all.”

Bal­sil­lie’s com­ments could re­vive a de­bate that sur­faced a cou­ple of years ago, fol­low­ing talks around the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship, over how Canada should ne­go­ti­ate IP pro­vi­sions in mod­ern trade agree­ments.

When it comes to what’s best for Canada, there’s dis­agree­ment whether the coun­try’s in­ter­ests should align with those in the U.S.

Ear­lier this week, the United States re­leased its NAFTA ob­jec­tives, as is re­quired un­der Amer­i­can law. The months-long talks are sched­uled to be­gin Aug. 16.

Among the pri­or­i­ties, the U.S. doc­u­ment said NAFTA talks must break down bar­ri­ers such as the “bur­den­some re­stric­tions of in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty.” It listed about 10 goals un­der the IP sec­tion.

The U.S. has also sig­nalled its ne­go­tia­tors would likely use agree­ments from the Trans-Pa­cific Part­ner­ship as a start­ing point in some ar­eas for NAFTA’s rene­go­ti­a­tion.

Bal­sil­lie fears the IP pro­vi­sions in NAFTA 2.0 could end up look­ing a lot like those Canada agreed to dur­ing TPP ne­go­ti­a­tions. The mea­sures in that deal sought the same IP laws for all 12 coun­tries.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion es­sen­tially killed the orig­i­nal TPP by pulling out of it ear­lier this year, but the re­main­ing 11 coun­tries, in­clud­ing Canada, have re­sumed talks.

Bal­sil­lie warned TPP’s IP rules would favour the more-dom­i­nant U.S. and its firms, which have al­ready amassed a far big­ger port­fo­lio of patents, copy­rights and trade­marks.

Canada’s in­no­va­tive en­trepreneurs would be locked out un­der the rule changes, he ar­gued.

“We dodged a bul­let of a life­time,” Bal­sil­lie said, re­fer­ring to the IP el­e­ments in TPP.

Other ex­perts strongly dis­agree that Canada’s pri­or­i­ties on IP should dif­fer in any sig­nif­i­cant way from those of the U.S.

Barry Sook­man, a se­nior part­ner with McCarthy Te­trault, said Canada, like the U.S., should be seek­ing a gen­eral, robust frame­work for IP. There should also be con­sis­tency with laws in the U.S., where many Cana­di­ans do busi­ness, he added.

Un­like other ar­eas, Sook­man ex­pects there’s very lit­tle for Canada and the U.S. to dis­agree on when it comes to IP.

He added that the IP pro­vi­sions in TPP would’ve only cre­ated “in­cre­men­tal” changes be­cause Cana­dian laws are al­ready largely con­sis­tent with them.

“Balder­dash,” Sook­man said when asked whether TPP’s IP rules would have dis­ad­van­taged Cana­dian in­no­va­tors.

“There was quite a lot of con­fu­sion and, frankly, in­ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about what the TPP would have re­quired for Canada.”

Jim Bal­sil­lie: If it’s not good, don’t sign.

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