Head of intellectual property group, Fasken Martineau

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He is 16 going on 17…and is on a mission.

A teenaged programming wiz who wrote his first DOS command at the age of four has joined software companies in calling for simpler and updated intellectual property laws to protect inventors and foster research initiatives.

“Wherever I go, I’ve been told to patent my idea, but the patent procedure is complicated and hard to understand for young inventors like me,” said Anthony Chiarelli, 16, a high school student from Hamilton, Ont.

Chiarelli spoke at a recently held round table discussion on intellectual property rights sponsored by Microsoft Canada Co. At the moment, the ethic is that everything on the Net is fair game. Marek Nitoslawski >Text

Also present were: Richard Owens executive director of the Centre for Innovation Law and Policy at the University of Toronto and partner with the law firm Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP; Rob Hoffman, production manager for Canada of San Rafael, Calif.-based software firm Autodesk Inc., and Ashif Mawji, president and chief executive officer of contract management software developers Upside Software Inc. in Edmonton.

Chiarelli developed a Microsoft Windows-based software product that embeds medical information onto the digital image of a patient. The data is encrypted so only doctors or medical personnel with the required security clearance can view the records. The teen’s program also allows transmission of the data to personal digital assistant (PDA) devices.

Chiarelli wrote the software back in 2004, but has not applied for a Canadian patent yet because “of the complexity of the process.”

Owens supports Chiarelli’s call for simpler and more modern IP laws. “We need to update legislation and make it reflect the realities of the digital age,” he said. “At the moment anyone can argue that it’s legal to download music in Canada.”

He said the wording of Canadian laws present loopholes that intellectual pirates can exploit. “It’s easy to protect a tangible object such as a coffee cup, but not something that can be copied in cyberspace.” Owens defined intellectual property rights as a broad entitlement that extends to include information, ideas and other “intangible assets in their expressed form.”

Other experts echoed similar views.

Canadian intellectual property laws “need to take into account the realities of the digital environment,” said Marek Nitoslawski, head of the intellectual property practice group at Toronto law firm Fasken Martineau. Nitoslawski noted the current copyright law was passed in 1920. Unfortunately “it takes long to get laws passed,” he said. “At the moment the ethic is that everything on the net is fare game.”

One unfortunate consequence of this situation is that inventors are often left in the cold, he said. “Inventors have to be compensated for their work. You can’t motivate inventors if their inventions are not protected.”

Autodesk’s Hoffman, whose firm manufactures AutoCad and MotionBuilder (leading design and animation software products respectively) said software piracy is rampant and can have destructive consequences. “For every package we sell, five are pirated.”

He did not provide any numbers, but said software piracy and a company’s efforts to stop it eats into valuable funds that could be used for research and development.

Mawji from Upside Software noted that the US has tougher IP laws and has also made advances in adapting them to the current environment.

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