The great intellectual property race: When will Canada cross the finish line?

Paradigm shifts and productivity have driven Canada’s digital media economy for the last 30 years (read this primer for more information)—but how is Canada currently faring from the standpoint of generating intellectual property?

In this post, I look at the state of Canada’s global competitiveness in the 21st century.  Who are our competitors? Where are our IP strengths and weaknesses? What are our competitive advantages? And how can we boost our productivity, both across the board and specifically in digital media?

“Mine that bird”

China has innovated its way past competitor nations, much in the same way that Mine that Bird came back from dead last to win the 2009 Kentucky Derby.

According to data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), China has received more ICT patents from the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) in the last seven years than many countries (including the UK). While China’s advancement has been impressive, the biggest outlier in ICT patents has been Taiwan: in the same seven-year period, Taiwan received more patents than Korea and Germany to rank third in the world, behind only the US and Japan. Not only was Taiwan innovating in ICT, but it was also a major hitter in nanotech—again, behind only the US and Japan. The “Taiwan Miracle” propelled Taiwan as a major hitter in Asia (alongside South Korea, Singapore and China).

In the 1950s, 90% of Taiwan’s residents lived in farming communities and agriculture accounted for 30% of Taiwan’s GDP. Fifty years later, only 5% of the labour force worked in agriculture and agriculture made up two per cent of Taiwan’s GDP. According to the International Monetary Fund, Taiwan’s Purchasing Power Parity (PPP) per capita was $31,834 in 2009—just $6,000 behind Canada.

Taiwan’s industrial revolution was their “moon shot” of the 20th century—and by most accounts, it’s succeeded.

[See motion chart below for details. If this is your first time using a motion chart, you may click here for an introductory video. For a closer look at the crowd in the bottom-left corner of the motion chart below, change the scale from linear to logarithm by clicking “Lin” in the upper-left corner, then “log”.]


Koreans work harder and longer than anyone else–35% longer than Americans. Should hours worked be one of the metrics used to judge strength? I believe in working smarter; not harder. Working smarting means prioritizing high-impact activities and allocating high talent to them—building on the pareto principle. For instance, not only do Koreans work long hours, but also they have the highest GDP per hour worked – that is, they work long hours on goods that markets want.

So how are IP ecosystems measured at the operational level? What scorecards and internal metrics are used to gauge progress and success?

Entrepreneurs can only sell goods and services that move consumers or their dashboard “needles”—so the only thing that can be measured is what gets done and the only thing that can be reported is what gets sold. We should start competing on day-to-day operational metrics; not on national macro-metrics that are lagging indicators.