When companies are at the startup stage of development, often their intellectual property is the only “property” they have — but it can be extremely valuable and critical to protect while a young company is emerging.
With that in mind, TD Bank created an innovative program to support fintech startups in Canada by funding a significant amount of legal fees for patents filed during a one-year period.
The program is administered by the TD Intellectual property in-house department and its Office of Patentable Innovation, in co-operation with outside counsel acting for the approved recipients.
Involved on the project from TD were Josh Death, associate vice president, Intellectual Property, and Mike Van Eesbeek, patent counsel, Office of Patentable Innovation.
“It was designed to allow startups that are in the seed stage and tight with funding to protect their intellectual property,” says Death.
The program was created to help the startups TD saw promise in and gave the bank another investment tool to help early-stage companies that weren’t ready for an equity investment but needed help with development.
Death says a study from Harvard University shows that startups that have patents have a much greater revenue potential, hire more staff, have higher profits and get more financing.
“Considering these factors, it made sense for us to nurture the startup ecosystem, especially at the very vulnerable seed stage,” says Death.
The department established the Patents for Start-ups program from the ground up, creating the objectives of the program to the implementation details, agreement and monetary contribution level.
“I have not seen or heard of an equivalent program and believe it could lead to a significant contribution to the development of the IP culture in Canada, particularly in the FinTech sector,” said Brett Slaney, a patent agent and partner with Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP, who nominated Death for the award.
Startups also need mentoring and financial support to protect their valuable IP, most often the only “property” they have at the outset. TD’s program breaks down an important barrier to these companies and allows them to focus spending on getting their product to market, while establishing important IP rights at a crucial early stage.
“While still in its early stages, the TD Patents for Start-ups Program has the positive effect of encouraging innovation in the fintech sector, which will benefit the entire ecosystem, not just the TD Bank Group,” said Slaney.
“The support provided by this program should be recognized as a truly innovative legal program placing a large private sector organization at the forefront of IP growth more broadly, at both the national and industry levels,” he said.
The TD Patents for Start-ups program is handled by the in-house group and external counsel is used as counsel for the recipients.
“We opened up our Rolodex to give the startups access to the top legal talent we’ve engaged with and also our pricing structure. So the funding is stretched as far as possible because they get the advantage of our volume-based work that we do with those law firms,” says Death.