Canada’s New Patent Certificates Are Here

(or The Value of Small Scale Creative Projects During a Pandemic)

Ever since I started leading my first experience design practice in 2007, I’ve been a big proponent of not only focusing exclusively on large, highly consequential projects for the client organizations I served, but also setting some time aside to work on smaller-scale, less politically constrained, ‘side projects’, that allow the team to disconnect from the usual daily grind, and provide us with the chance to exercise our collective creative experimentation muscles.

For someone like me, who before the pandemic was already spending a lot of time working on hobby projects in front of my home computer late in the evenings, the inability to physically be in the office for at least part of the week meant I ended up hitting the proverbial pandemic wall (or is it ‘Zoom fatigue’?) about a month after social distancing measures were implemented in March. And even if some of my work projects abruptly ended because of the new economic environment, and I ended up postponing some of my ‘hobby’ projects (like CanUX 2020 and the remainder of my speaking engagements for the year) until at least 2021, the reduced workload still didn’t end up helping my mental state in any significant way.

My main daily project during this time, consulting to set up and integrate a research driven, evidence-based, service design practice within the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), is another long term initiative that I’ve been leading for the past year and a half alongside some amazing folks. However, between the inability to have in-person conversations with colleagues and end-users, the absence of non-virtual team-building activities, and facing the prospect of navigating the many layers of internal governance / bureaucracy within the client organization from afar, I knew that my mental health state was still trending down, and was dependent on quickly finding something creative and more fun for us to work on.

While the current state of (isolated) affairs was new to me, the need for ongoing small creative projects was very familiar. When I was leading the UX Practice at Deloitte Canada, my team worked on small-scale initiatives like designing an internal auction site and redesigned the global qual database UI. At Shaw, one of Canada’s largest telecommunications providers, the UX team I managed took some time every Friday to work on small scale projects like redesigning the customers’ phone/internet/cable bills or exploring other visual paradigms for channel guides for our cable TV subscribers. At the Medical Council of Canada, my team worked on a small project that involved designing an online tool that reduced the number of people and the time required by experienced doctors to mark the Clinical Decision Making exams for new medical school graduates by more than half. At CanUX, we take on small creative projects every year, from building giant stage robot props to designing badges and posters. And while not all of these projects pan out (in fact some are intentionally throwaway), that’s not where their true value comes from. They are fantastic team building activities that allow everyone in the team to collaborate and/or compete with each other in a fun, safe environment, and contribute significantly to maintaining our collective sanity (even if in some instances this last point is not always as obvious as we’d like).

By a sheer stroke of luck, an opportunity presented itself at CIPO: the Patents Branch was looking at redesigning the printed Canadian patent certificates for the first time since the 90s. Initially, this felt like the perfectly constrained initiative that, in the grand scheme of things, had the potential of being the small diversion we needed from navigating our current larger mandate of delivering on a few parallel strategic generative service design research studies with internal and external Patents Branch users.

Canada’s new patent certificate launched on Sept 1st, 2020

Fast forward two months later, and our redesigned Canadian patent certificates were officially introduced by the CEO of CIPO. On Sept 1st, 2020, the first new certificates were printed, embossed and sent out to the innovation community. Sure, what we initially thought would be something that would take us only a few days to learn about and deliver, ended up being a longer and more (politically) convoluted road, but still a rewarding and energizing one nonetheless.

To get to this point, we initially performed a comparative analysis between other intellectual property (IP) certificates from various international jurisdictions. We included IP certificates from the United States, the European Union (EUIPO, Germany, France, UK), Australia, China, Japan, Singapore and Russia. We wanted to understand how these certificates dealt with the variable size of patent data fields that typically range from a single word to multi-line paragraphs, the fluctuating number of inventor names (ranging from a single inventor to over a hundred) and whether consensus existed regarding the order and positioning of the visual elements like seals and signature blocks. This analysis also helped us get an overall feel for the typical design of IP certificates, something that none of us had any experience with before.

Example showing the proposed family of Canadian IP certificates

Subsequently, the team created and submitted a small number of certificate designs. A few approval meetings later, CIPO’s new patent certificate design direction was set. We opted for a simple layout that includes a number of Canadian design elements like a stylized maple leaf and CIPO’s current current FIP-compliant document headers and footers. Because these new certificates would not only be printed on paper but also sent out to inventors as e-certificates starting later in the year, we settled on a combination of fonts that render well on paper as well as electronically: Gilroy ExtraBold for titles, DIN for patent data elements and Roboto for the field labels. Finally, getting these designs out the door ended up being a massive collaboration between a number of different teams: Patents Branch, Programs Branch, P.I.T.S., UX, Communications, Procurement, are what come to mind.

While these newly designed certificates will continue to be mailed in many cases, the full patent application package, consisting in some instances of hundreds of pages describing the patent literature, will no longer be sent out with the certificates but will remain available online through the Canadian Patent Database, in line with CIPO’s modernization efforts as part of their business / IT strategy. The new small footprint of the patent package and the e-certificates initiative will also allow CIPO to significantly reduce its paper usage, and lower the environmental impact of the organization.

Following the successful design shift for the patent certificates, CIPO decided that their other IP rights certificates (trademarks, industrial design and copyright) should follow suit and become part of the same certificate family, exhibiting similar design patterns and visual elements. As a result, our team was tagged to also work on the redesign of these other certificates, a further tribute to the success of the patents certificate redesign initiative.

A small initiative that presented itself to the CIPO UX team at a juncture in time when we all sorely needed it, will end up having a positive ripple effect for millions of Canadian IP rights holders, as well as providing a modern refresh to CIPO’s end products. Not bad for a bitesize side dish of creative design distraction.



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Experience design professional. Troublemaker. Mars Rover. Wanderer. Nomad. Part-time vagabond. Co-chair of @CanUXconf, founder of @ampli2de.