2020-2021 Annual Report
A year of resilience and innovation

2020−2021 began with considerable uncertainty, as CIPO and the rest of the world dealt with the impacts of a rapidly evolving pandemic. As workplace restrictions and lockdown orders were put into place across Canada, CIPO moved quickly to equip its workforce to be able to work from home. Employees were furnished with the IT equipment, remote connection accounts and collaboration tools necessary to provide continual service to clients and Canadians. Changes were made to our operations that reduced the number of employees working on-site to an essential minimum. For these employees whose duties were deemed critical to CIPO operations, we implemented health and safety protocols, secured additional workspaces, and instituted a schedule and adjusted workflows that would ensure physical distancing.

To support clients who were themselves coping with the negative impacts of COVID-19 to their business and operations, CIPO activated the designated days provision, which effectively suspended most deadlines for fee payments and other client actions between and .

Mail and digital correspondence

CIPO's Incoming Correspondence Unit (ICU) is the first stop for correspondence received at CIPO, whether it is sent electronically, by mail or by fax. In the early days of the pandemic, the ICU quickly reconfigured workstations and adapted its processes, allowing operations to continue while ensuring the health and safety of employees. CIPO worked closely with internal and external IT partners to acquire technology solutions that enabled ICU employees to carry out many of their functions remotely, which was previously not possible. Pre-COVID, about 93 percent of CIPO correspondence came in the form of paper. Within just days, paper correspondence was reduced to 8%, with the vast majority of clients switching to electronic means. The efficiency gains from these changes will be enduring and will benefit both clients and the Office well-beyond the end of the pandemic that incited them.

Frontline and in-person services

CIPO's Client Service Centre (CSC) is the central point of contact for IP-related general enquiries. Prior to the pandemic, CIPO's call centre operated exclusively on-site. On , call centre employees migrated to a remote work environment, without any service interruption to clients. During this time of economic uncertainty, CIPO's CSC phone lines remained open for clients seeking answers to general or case-specific questions.

In March and April of 2020, CIPO suspended its IP document order service as it sought to establish a safe environment for employees working on-site. While delays were initially experienced, processing times quickly recovered and have since returned to standard. CIPO is now working toward making its collection of IP documents and resources publicly available online.

The qualifying examination for patent and trademark agents, typically held in person, were postponed. These 2 services resumed in November 2020 and were administered electronically for the first time.

Appeals and oppositions

The Patent Appeal Board (PAB) and Trademarks Opposition Board (TMOB) continued to hold hearings by teleconference and videoconference, including some requiring simultaneous translation. In 2020−2021, the TMOB conducted 67% more hearings compared to the previous year, a testament to the operation of the virtual hearing process. The TMOB also saw a significant increase in the usage of the its online correspondence system. From April 2020 to March 2021, the percentage of correspondence submitted online increased from 27% to 79%.

Client and stakeholder communication

Throughout the year, CIPO used virtual technologies to engage and inform clients on the implications of the pandemic to CIPO operations. We developed and hosted a number of webinars on YouTube to ensure the IP community was well-informed and to provide guidance on the changes implemented, notably the activation of the designated days provision.

Ongoing communication and collaboration with stakeholders and intermediaries provided CIPO with a better understanding of what was occurring in the marketplace and the issues clients were facing. CIPO also participated in regular meetings with WIPO and our international IP counterparts to share insights on how the COVID-19 crisis was impacting IP operations and global economic trends. These exchanges provided invaluable intelligence and technological workarounds that helped inform our pandemic response.