Lithium-ion batteries in Canada: IP Considerations

13 minute read
27 July 2023

The world is working to address the challenge of global carbon emissions by transitioning from fossil fuels to sustainable energy alternatives.

Rechargeable batteries have emerged as a promising solution, but further advancements are needed to match the efficiency of traditional fuels. Extensive research and development efforts are underway to improve battery performance, driven by the growing demand for advanced battery technology and investments from stakeholders, especially electric vehicle manufacturers.

Canada holds a unique position in the global lithium-ion battery supply chain and offers numerous opportunities to industry stakeholders.

The article emphasizes the importance of Canadian companies protecting their intellectual property value proposition amid increasing competition. Strategic IP management will be crucial for securing Canada's position in the global supply chain, attracting investments, forming collaborations and positioning the country as a leader in sustainable energy solutions and battery technology advancements worldwide.

Canada and Lithium-ion Battery Supply Chain

In 2022, Canada made significant progress in the global lithium-ion battery supply chain, climbing from fifth to the impressive second position in BloombergNEF's annual report. This achievement is attributed to the country's abundant reserves of raw materials and active mining efforts. The report evaluated 30 countries based on various metrics related to their involvement in the lithium-ion battery sector, highlighting Canada's growing influence in the global production landscape.

With its potential to address the increasing demand for advanced battery technologies, Canada is solidifying its position as a key player in shaping the future of sustainable energy solutions and driving advancements in battery technology worldwide.

Why Canada?

Canada's impressive second position in the global lithium-ion battery supply chain rankings can be attributed to multiple factors that make it an attractive location for both domestic and international players. The country's abundance of critical raw materials, supported by a robust mining sector and favorable government policies, ensures a stable supply chain for battery manufacturers. Canada's strong research and development capabilities, skilled workforce, and commitment to sustainable energy solutions further enhance its appeal.

Additionally, its strategic location, stable political environment, and involvement in favorable trade agreements contribute to a conducive environment for the growth and success of the lithium-ion battery industry in Canada.

Recent and future developments in Canada

The developments in Canada's lithium-ion battery supply chain have been significant and demonstrate the country's commitment to becoming a prominent player in the global electric vehicle (EV) and battery industry. Here are some notable examples of recent developments across different verticals within the lithium-ion battery supply chain in Canada:

  1. GM's Full-Scale EV Manufacturing Plant: General Motors (GM) established Canada's first full-scale EV manufacturing plant in Ingersoll, Ontario. This plant represents a major investment in Canada's automotive sector and reinforces the country's position as a key player in EV production.
  2. Nano One's Acquisition and Expansion: Canada-based lithium-ion battery technology company, Nano One, headquartered in British Columbia, acquired a former Johnson Matthey LFP (lithium iron phosphate) production facility in Québec. With plans to scale up the facility, Nano One aims to bolster the country's capacity for lithium-ion battery production. Additionally, the company acquired relevant intellectual property from Johnson Matthey, enhancing its technological expertise in the field.
  3. VW's Largest EV Battery Plant: Volkswagen (VW) has announced plans to set up the world's largest EV battery plant in St. Thomas, Ontario. With production expected to begin in 2027, this ambitious venture will significantly boost Canada's role in the global EV battery supply chain.
  4. GM and POSCO's Joint Venture: The Ultium CAM facility in Bécancour, Québec, is a joint venture between General Motors and POSCO. This project aims to develop the EV Battery Supply Chain in North America. It is part of a larger green energy corridor that includes Bécancour and nearby cities like Trois-Rivières and Shawinigan, fostering collaboration between companies and research institutions focused on electric vehicles.

In recent developments, Canada demonstrates a strong commitment to building a competitive lithium-ion battery industry, attracting key players in electric vehicles (EV) and batteries. The country is strategically establishing manufacturing plants, expanding production facilities, acquiring intellectual property, and forming partnerships to capitalize on diverse opportunities in the sector. This proactive approach solidifies Canada's position in the global market and fosters a sustainable battery industry in the country.

Apart from mining and manufacturing, the Propulsion Québec 2019 report highlights the untapped potential of lithium-ion battery recycling. The recycling industry presents promising opportunities for innovation and growth. Local battery recycling initiatives offer several advantages, including accessing valuable raw materials, contributing to a circular supply chain, and reducing costs associated with battery collection and transportation, leading to significant economic benefits.

Canada's role in the lithium-ion battery sector is crucial for shaping the global landscape. By capitalizing on its strengths and pursuing innovative solutions, Canada can contribute to establishing a secure and sustainable global supply chain for critical materials. To attract investments and collaborations, Canadian companies must proactively enhance their market value proposition, focusing on the scope and relevance of their intellectual property assets. By taking these strategic steps, they can position themselves favorably and secure advantageous deals in the competitive market, both domestically and internationally. This proactive approach will enable Canada to play a significant role in the industry's future.

The Gowling WLG integrated approach to Intellectual Property

Properly articulating the value proposition from an intellectual property perspective becomes a crucial element for Canadian companies operating within the lithium-ion battery supply chain. As they seek to attract investment, enter into joint collaborations or explore options for mergers and acquisitions, effectively managing and leveraging their intellectual property assets is essential.

To navigate this complex landscape successfully, Canadian companies require the support of knowledgeable and trusted IP and legal advisors with an integrated approach that encompasses both IP and business law. These advisors should possess expertise not only in relevant technology and IP matters but also in areas such as tax, mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and corporate law. This integrated approach ensures that the management of intellectual property aligns seamlessly with broader business strategies and legal considerations.

Key aspects where these advisors can provide valuable assistance include:

  1. IP strategy and protection: Crafting a robust IP strategy is crucial for Canadian companies to safeguard their innovations, technologies, and proprietary processes. Expert advisors can help identify valuable IP assets, formulate effective protection measures through patents, trademarks, copyright, and trade secrets, and ensure compliance with IP regulations.
  2. IP valuation: Accurately valuing intellectual property assets is essential for negotiations involving investment, collaborations, or mergers and acquisitions. Skilled IP advisors can conduct thorough assessments together with valuation experts to determine the true worth of a company's IP portfolio.
  3. Due diligence: During potential partnerships or acquisitions, conducting comprehensive IP due diligence is imperative. Advisors with expertise in both IP and M&A can assess the strengths, weaknesses, and risks associated with a company's IP, aiding in informed decision-making.
  4. IP licensing and commercialization: Skillful IP advisors can guide Canadian companies in developing strategic licensing agreements and commercialization plans, creating additional revenue streams and expanding market reach.
  5. Tax planning: Integrating IP considerations with tax planning is vital to optimize financial outcomes and minimize tax liabilities related to IP transactions and international operations.
  6. Contract Negotiations: Advisors with a combined IP and corporate law background can provide valuable insights during contract negotiations, ensuring that IP rights and obligations are adequately addressed.
  7. By working alongside integrated IP and business law advisors, Canadian companies can effectively articulate the value of their intellectual property assets. This collaborative approach empowers companies to make informed decisions, maximize the value of their IP, and position themselves advantageously in an increasingly competitive and dynamic lithium-ion battery supply chain.

Main challenges for Canadian companies from an IP perspective

In the dynamic world of the lithium-ion battery sector, Canadian companies may face noteworthy challenges when it comes to IP. These challenges arise due to the industry's competitiveness and rapid evolution. Some of the key hurdles they may encounter include:

  1. Patent complexity: The battery industry is witnessing an influx of patents, resulting in a complex web of overlapping rights known as a "patent thicket." For Canadian companies, navigating this landscape requires caution to avoid infringing on existing patents while safeguarding their own innovations. The risk of unintentional infringement or facing claims from competitors is a significant concern.
  2. Keeping pace with innovation: The lithium-ion battery sector experiences rapid advancements and breakthroughs. Staying informed about the latest technologies is essential for Canadian companies to identify areas for improvement and potential patent opportunities. Falling behind in innovation could mean missing out on a competitive edge.
  3. Protecting trade secrets: The battery industry relies on closely guarded trade secrets, such as proprietary manufacturing processes and sensitive data. Ensuring strict confidentiality measures internally and during collaborations is critical to safeguarding valuable intellectual property. Protecting trade secrets can be challenging in international markets, as the level of legal protection and enforcement may vary between countries. Companies operating globally must be aware of the legal landscape in each jurisdiction and take appropriate measures to safeguard their confidential information.
  4. Global market complexity: The global nature of the lithium-ion battery market presents challenges in international IP protection. Canadian companies operating in multiple jurisdictions must navigate various IP laws and regulations to ensure their patents and trade secrets are adequately protected worldwide.
  5. Collaborations and joint ventures: Collaborations and joint ventures are common strategies for pooling resources and expertise in the battery industry. However, such partnerships require careful consideration of IP ownership and licensing agreements to prevent future disputes and protect Canadian companies' interests.
  6. Patent trolls and litigation: Patent trolls, entities that exploit patents solely for litigation purposes, pose a risk to Canadian companies. Vigilance and a robust IP portfolio are essential to defend against potential patent troll attacks and safeguard the company's IP rights.
  7. Overcoming market entry barriers: Established players with extensive patent portfolios can create barriers for new entrants or smaller Canadian companies seeking to compete. Strategic IP planning and potential cross-licensing agreements may be necessary to gain a foothold in the market.

Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive IP strategy and collaboration with experienced IP advisors and legal experts. By doing so, Canadian companies can confidently protect their innovations, position themselves as industry leaders, and capitalize on the vast opportunities in the lithium-ion battery sector.

At Gowling WLG, our commitment is to provide tailored, innovative, and effective legal solutions to our clients in the lithium-ion battery and EV sector. In Canada, we are recognised as the country's leading law firm across all facets of IP. Our award-winning group of IP professionals has earned a reputation as the go-to team for those seeking ironclad protection for their most valuable brands, innovations and other IP rights.

Our IP practice works as part of a full-service international law firm, allowing us to provide a comprehensive offering that seamlessly combines your IP interests with other facets of your organisation, developing a more holistic picture of your business objectives to ensure your success. By leveraging our integrated legal and IP expertise, companies can confidently navigate the legal complexities of the industry and position themselves for success in seizing emerging opportunities in Canada's dynamic and fast-growing energy and mobility landscape.

NOT LEGAL ADVICE. Information made available on this website in any form is for information purposes only. It is not, and should not be taken as, legal advice. You should not rely on, or take or fail to take any action based upon this information. Never disregard professional legal advice or delay in seeking legal advice because of something you have read on this website. Gowling WLG professionals will be pleased to discuss resolutions to specific legal concerns you may have.