Akhil Shah Student Writer, Windsor Law LTEC Lab J.D. Candidate 2021
The University of Windsor Faculty of Law is now offering a new intellectual property (IP) clinic course in collaboration with EPICentre, an on-campus entrepreneurship and innovation centre. The course, developed by Windsor Law Professor Myra Tawfik and officially known as the Entrepreneurship and Law: EPICentre Practicum, is designed to enhance practical skills and the expertise of students interested in the strategic aspects of IP law by working with start-up businesses in the Windsor-Essex county. Throughout her career, Professor Tawfik has founded and led a number of multidisciplinary clinics, knowledge mobilization and community outreach projects designed to provide Canadian start-ups and innovators with IP literacy skills and access to affordable IP legal services.
Professor Tawfik is a senior research fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), a think-tank based in Waterloo, Ontario. “They were looking at ways of thinking about IP policy that achieved more direct economic outcomes for the province and for the country,” says Professor Tawfik. “I had been running projects on IP literacy in Windsor/Essex but I realized the gaps in IP strategic knowledge was system-wide across the country. CIGI provided me with the opportunity to expand my work beyond the local region.” According to Professor Tawfik, these gaps in IP knowledge have led Canada to lag behind other countries in achieving innovation outcomes. For example, rates of patenting – a metric used to gauge the degree of innovation in a country – tend to be relatively low for Canadian inventors.
Services for entrepreneurs in Canada tend to be more business related, and unfortunately do not focus on salient legal guidance for tech start-ups. “I started looking at different models of delivery,” she says. “The course first began through a massive open online course which I had developed with the former general counsel and chief legal officer for Blackberry, Karima Bawa.” Blackberry, at the time owned by a Waterloo-based company called Research In Motion, struggled to defend its IP in courts from patent trolls – individuals or businesses who acquire patents for the purposes of suing on them. For Blackberry, money wasn’t the issue, according to Professor Tawfik. “What Karima told me was that Blackberry could afford a lawyer; they just couldn’t find a lawyer that could help with that type of litigation. They could do all the IP filings, they could give excellent advice about the law, but this element of how they might strategically defend against the lawsuit wasn’t there from Canadian lawyers.” The free course developed by Professor Tawfik and Bawa consists of seven modules and provides a basic introduction to intellectual property and IP strategy for start-ups. This online course became the basis for the new IP course launched by Windsor Law.
The Windsor Law IP entrepreneurship course is designed to achieve two goals: firstly, to raise the level of legal literacy amongst entrepreneurs so that they know what intellectual property is, and secondly to ensure that the next generation of IP lawyers are sensitized to the issues that start-ups face with regards to IP portfolios and IP strategy. “The idea is to get students while still in law school to get sensitized to the start-up community and how to strategically leverage IP. I used the online course as the basis for teaching material.” The class time consists of simulations, workshops, discussions, exercises, and client consultation. Students are meant to come to class having prepared in advance and are to rely on their knowledge of each module in order to apply what they know to real clients and real start-ups to help with the legal issues these businesses confront. “Law students will deliver workshops in intellectual property law and different aspects of IP strategy for the start-up community. The law students are mentored by and work collaboratively with IP practitioners in the delivery of the workshops. ” This course will also offer legal triage services to start-up clients in order to best ascertain their IP issues and direct them to other services that may be useful, including at Canadian Intellectual Property Office or the International IP Law clinic. The triage service, and the IP course as a whole, aims to fill in the knowledge gaps that entrepreneurs face with respect to their IP rights by preparing them for what they should expect and request from practising IP lawyers. “The goal is to broaden the scope of the way these entrepreneurs are thinking,” says Professor Tawfik. “There’s a lot of misinformation out there amongst entrepreneurs; they’re told they don’t need to file a patent because it’s too expensive. They need to know the importance of patenting and trademarks, and they need do those things at the outset – they can’t jump in at a later time.”
Another goal of the course is to begin to build a foundation from which entrepreneurs can rely on enough legal support in Canada so that they can stay here. Tech companies, once they become much larger, are frequently purchased by foreign entities, says Professor Tawfik. Having more legal support increases the likelihood that Canadian companies will stay in the country and grow and develop here – an obvious boost for the economy as the revenue and value of the IP would stay in Canada, as well.
Students wishing to take the course need to have taken, or take contemporaneously, at least one IP course offered by the Faculty, including Copyright Law, Patent Law, or Trademarks & Unfair Competition. Students who have a demonstrated interest in IP law will likely get the most benefit from the course, says Professor Tawfik. “The course in some ways is meant to be a capstone course before the end of law school for students who are interested in IP or who are going to article at an IP firm, and they have a course here which teaches them how to use the IP rights that they have learned about in different ways.”
Students interested in IP law can look forward to November when Professor Tawfik will be releasing a book written jointly with Karima Bawa on IP strategy entitled ‘The Intellectual Property Guide: IP Literacy and Strategy Basics for Supporting Innovation.’ The book is a more elaborate version of what is covered in the clinic course and aims to focus on the business aspect of IP. What does Professor Tawfik hope for the future of IP offerings at the University of Windsor? “That’s a good question. One course that I hope we can teach again is Law of Confidentiality and Trade Secrets, which from an IP strategy perspective is becoming a very important body of law. But personally for me, the most interesting courses are the experiential ones that are multidisciplinary and include engineering, law, and business students working together on projects. I’d love to see us be nimble enough in terms of the campus and the law school to be able to put together standalone projects in areas of innovation where you’ve got multidisciplinary teams solving problems. Canadian creativity is very siloed; we’re very compartmentalized in the way our world is structured, and I think we need to break down some of those barriers and engage more in collaborative efforts.”
 I would like to thank Alethea Song for her contributions and assistance in reviewing the blog. All errors are my own.