CETA opens new pathways for Canadian innovation — now we need to build on it

It’s been a long and bumpy road toward CETA. The much-anticipated Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union was signed by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Sunday under provisional terms, bringing the majority of the deal into force.

The agreement continues provisions directly impacting Canada’s life sciences sector and the protection of Canadian innovation, most notably:

Patent Term Restoration, which will offer innovators, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry, the potential to recover up to two years of time lost on patents as a result of lengthy clinical trials and regulatory/government approval processes. Canada is the only G7 nation that does not currently provide any form of patent term restoration.

The Right of Appeal, which will allow innovators to effectively appeal court decisions where generic products are approved for sale, even when protected by a valid patent. This process has been available to challengers, but not to patent owners, to date.

The above interventions are urgently needed. Put bluntly, Canada lags behind the rest of the developed world in terms of IP protection. This has prevented us from fully capitalizing on our must abundant natural resources: our research, technology, and talent.

This quote, from the Pugatch Consilium’s 2015 Biopharma Investment & Competitiveness Survey, aptly summarizes the current state of Canadian IP:

“Canada represents an outlier among developed high-income economies. Although Canada has attractive aspects to its biomedical environment…what is notable is how far below other high-income economies its overall score falls, despite in some cases having a much larger market. [This is] primarily due to a mediocre life sciences IP environment that deviates from international norms in important aspects of patenting and enforcement; an overly restrictive pricing and reimbursement environment; and delays in the regulatory system. These elements present major hurdles to investment and the biomedical environment overall.”

The IP interventions ensconced in CETA, while most pertinent to the pharmaceutical industry, are relevant across the life sciences and tech sectors. Why? They signal a fundamental shift in how we approach innovation in a global context. CETA sends a strong message that Canada, as a country, is becoming more progressive and competitive.

Now we must build on this milestone. We must follow the spirt of CETA’s IP protections into other key policy discussions, especially where other global players are concerned, to ensure that Canada has a robust and internationally-competitive intellectual property regime.

This is how we will encourage the development and commercialization of innovative technologies: through a diversified, knowledge-based Canadian economy with progressive public policy that supports innovation here at home, and within the context of the global marketplace.