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Propelling Green Innovation Through IP

By:

Me David Durand, founding lawyer and trademark agent at Durand Lawyers

Me Thomas Mulcair, Chairman of the board of Earth Day Canada


We are witness to a pivotal moment in world history. The scope of the global crisis we now face has brought life to a standstill, put enormous pressure on healthcare systems, and radically changed how we conduct our lives. What we cannot afford to lose sight of, in all of this, is our collective responsibility towards the environment. The 50th anniversary of Earth Day provides a welcome opportunity to reflect on this responsibility. The crisis may prevent us from celebrating this milestone to the fullest, but it remains nonetheless essential to honour the occasion and set our sights on a more sustainable world in the in the wake of these trying times. We can, and must, harness this moment of societal transformation to promote “innovation for a greener future”[1]. Intellectual property (IP) gives us some key tools to do so.


Covid-19: A pandemic, not a panacea


Though social distancing directives issued in response to COVID-19 have created inadvertent environmental benefits such as reduced carbon emissions and pollution[2], claims of a recovering and restored environment are greatly exaggerated. In the words of McGill University associate professor and epidemiologist Jill Baumgartner “This really shouldn’t be seen as a silver lining. It’s not a sustainable way to reduce air pollution, and the long-term economic and well-being impacts of this crisis are going to be devastating for many people.”[3]


We must remain steadfast in our pursuit of innovative policies, technologies, and practices that will promote a healthy planet and sustainable development in the long-term. Some of our key goals and missions include:


  • raising awareness among world populations around the need for positive environmental initiatives and practices;

  • inspiring individual and corporate commitment to actions that can preserve and restore the environment;

  • reducing greenhouse emissions and individuals’ carbon footprints; and

  • achieving Canada’s environmental sustainability priorities (e.g., a low-carbon economy)[4] and compliance to its obligations set forth in various free-trade agreements (e.g., Canada-United States-Mexico Agreement (CUSMA) - Environment chapter)[5] and other international environmental agreements.[6]


It is our duty to inform ourselves about issues of global importance and to take action to better our communities. Action at the individual level has the power to trigger a snowball effect into bigger structural change, and it all begins at home.


What actions can you take from home? We invite you to visit Earth Day Canada’s #EarthDayAtHome to find a wide range of suggestions and advice in a time of social distancing.


However, if environmental progress is to be sweeping and permanent, we must promote innovation in the green sector and create protections that will encourage these individuals to align their efforts with the organizations that have the will and the resources to be motors for change.


Promoting innovation for a green future


Right on the heels of Earth Day, Durand Lawyers will join the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) in marking World IP Day on April 26, 2020. With a theme of “Innovate for a Green Future”, the initiative aims to put “innovation – and the IP rights that support it – at the heart of efforts to create a green future”.[7]


As noted by WIPO Director General, Francis Gurry, in his World IP Day 2020 message, “Our response to the current crisis demonstrates that we have the collective wisdom, the ingenuity and the creativity to rise to these challenges and to shape a future, one that is safe, sustainable and green. And, as we look to that future, we see that IP-driven innovation and innovative thinking are central to solving our shared, global challenges.”


This dedication to promoting green innovation, further supported by WIPO’s online platform and marketplace for sustainability technology, WIPO GREEN, aligns closely with our goals and missions and sends a welcome message.


Another step in the right direction is Canada’s approach to innovation and its IP (e.g., patents, trademarks, industrial designs, copyright and trade-secrets). The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), a member of WIPO GREEN, provides an expedited process for patent applications relating to Cleantech[8], which reduces the amount of time it takes to patent Cleantech inventions. Not only does this enable businesses to bring them to market more rapidly, but also it spurs innovation by encouraging other actors in the sector to build on, improve, or even design around existing technology. This initiative demonstrates Canada’s commitment to finding solutions to real problems, especially in the green space.


Yet, while the technology resulting from innovation is one piece of the puzzle, another crucial aspect of IP, and an oft-overlooked driver of positive environmental and social change, is the proper use of trademarks. In our case, Earth Day Canada uses its trademarks “Earth Day” and “Jour de La Terre” to provide for brand awareness and as a statement of our intent and assurance that products and/or services associated with said brand are manufactured or performed under the highest possible sustainability standards. We use IP to build a brand associated with environmental integrity, one that like-minded actors will view as a trusted ally, because they know that our trademark is a symbol of commitment to shared ideals.


Judicious reliance trademarks and copyright ensure that our message and efforts to promote concrete environmental action with a real impact is not diluted by organizations seeking to capitalize on the marketing power of eco-responsible products and services, without the underlying practices to substantiate their claims. When trademarks in the environmental sector are upheld, companies that want the economic benefits of environmentally products must in fact innovate to adapt their practices, making them more environmentally-friendly.


As a charitable organization, we endeavour to promote environmental progress, including a low-carbon economy, sustainable waste management and reduction, and revegetation. In collaboration with our legal counsel, Me David Durand, we are able to negotiate co-branding and sponsorship arrangements with some of most renowned businesses and environmental actors in Canada and France. Through these agreements, not only are we able to fulfill our goals and missions, but also create some of the most innovative environmental campaigns and/or programs, which we are very proud of, including: Action/Reduction, Tomorrow’s Forest, Transition Wow.


Trademarks as a driver of positive social practices


Trademarks can also be powerful tools for social protection, especially in tumultuous times such as these. For example, as the battle against the Covid-19 pandemic continues, multi-national corporation 3M, producer of the increasingly scarce N95 respirator mask, has made headlines for fighting exploitative practices and price-gouging by enforcing its trademarks. When a distributor of this critical safety device for health care professionals treating Covid-19 patients attempted to sell the product to the city of New York at a five-fold mark-up, 3M invoked their trademark portfolio to spotlight this socially harmful practice. This use of IP serves the greater social good by dissuading potential consumers and clients from associating or entering into agreements with an entity seeking to profit from crisis, and thus undermines the benefit to the entity of such unscrupulous practices.


Conclusion


We find ourselves at a crossroads. It is time to seize this unprecedented opportunity for innovation in the green sector and social progress, to make bold strides toward the sustainable future we need in order for our societies to thrive and prosper. Environmental action, coupled with the application of IP, particularly trademarks and patents, represent a powerful driver of these advancements. Partnerships such as that between Durand Lawyers and Earth Day Canada can serve as model for leveraging the knowledge of two experts in their fields for the benefit of society.


About Durand Lawyers


Proud partner of Earth Day Canada, Durand Lawyers brings Law & Business Together. We are a law and business advisory firm specialized in intellectual property, business strategy, as well as civil and corporate law. We are uniquely positioned to help clients in emerging technology industries such as environment, SaaS, AI, FinTech and cannabis, employing both lawyers and experienced entrepreneurs to get the best possible outcomes. For more information visit our website at www.durand-lex.com. We are also involved with the LES and FORPIQ.


About Earth Day Canada


For 25 years, Earth Day Canada has celebrated Earth Day with a wide array of awareness-raising activities on environmental issues. With its ability to mobilize local stakeholders, Earth Day Canada has developed numerous initiatives for April 22nd and every day. We aim to use Earth Day, April 22nd, as a catalyst for rallying engaged citizens and supporting organizations and municipalities trying to reduce their impact on the environment, all across Canada.


[1] https://www.wipo.int/ip-outreach/en/ipday/2020/green_future.html


[2] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51691967


[3] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/factcheck/2020/03/25/fact-check-coronavirus-crisis-benefiting-environment/2908300001/


[4] http://fsds-sfdd.ca/index.html#/en/goals/ and https://www.canada.ca/en/services/environment/conservation/sustainability.html


[5] https://www.international.gc.ca/trade-commerce/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/cusma-aceum/enviro.aspx?lang=eng


[6] https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/corporate/international-affairs/partnerships-organizations/participation-international-environmental-agreements.html


[7] https://www.wipo.int/ip-outreach/en/ipday/


[8] https://www.ic.gc.ca/eic/site/cipointernet-internetopic.nsf/eng/wr04431.html#global




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