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Man on Sidewalk in Nikes (Buenos Aires, Argentina 2002) by Woody Wood (CC BY-NC 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/s1xotg

What Would a Digital Economy-Era NAFTA Mean for Canada?

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is expected to file a notice of renegotiation of the North American free trade agreement within weeks, paving the way for talks that could reshape the Canadian economy. It became clear last week that the renegotiation will involve much more than just a few “tweaks”, as a U.S. congressional hearing saw officials trot out the usual laundry list of demands including changes to agricultural supply management, softwood lumber exports, and anti-counterfeiting measures.

Those issues will undoubtedly prove contentious, yet my Globe and Mail article notes that more interesting were comments from Mr. Ross about the need for new NAFTA chapters to reflect the digital economy. The emphasis on digital policies foreshadows a new battleground that will have enormous implications for Canadian privacy laws and digital policies.

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March 24, 2017 1 comment Columns
Mentre tassisti (e teppisti) devastano Roma, Uber è sempre più utilizzato by Automobile Italia (CC BY 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/SoruaR

C’mon Uber: Sales Taxes on Uber Rides Are Not a “Tax on Innovation”

Yesterday’s federal budget included plans to amend the law to ensure that GST/HST is applicable to ride sharing services such as Uber. The budget states that the government will:

Amend the definition of a taxi business under the Excise Tax Act to level the playing field and ensure that ride-sharing businesses are subject to the same GST/HST rules as taxis.

This change should not be particularly controversial. No one likes paying taxes, but equal application of sales taxes ensures appropriate revenue collection and a level-playing field for all businesses in the sector. As I noted in an earlier post, I expect that this is a first step toward extending requirements to collect and remit sales taxes on foreign digital services such as Netflix and Spotify.  Applying sales taxes to all foreign digital services is complicated – there needs to be thresholds implemented to ensure that administrative costs do not outweigh revenues collected – but Uber is well established in Canada with many local jurisdictions establishing a regulatory framework for the service.

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March 23, 2017 5 comments News
AM16 Seminar: Fiscal Policy in the New Normal by International Monetary Fund (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/MuzgZS

Budget 2017: Why Canada’s Digital Policy Future Is Up For Grabs

Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau released his government’s 2017 budget today and while the spending promises may be underwhelming for some, the documents sets out an ambitious agenda for digital policy review. In fact, with changes to copyright, patent, broadcast, telecom, net neutrality, digital taxes, fintech, Canadian media, and Cancon all under consideration, the coming year will have enormous implications for the future of Canada’s digital policies.

The budget does include several spending promises, including $13.2 million over five years to support an affordable Internet access program, $50 million for kids coding programs, $29.5 million over five years for digital literacy, and $14.9 million for digitization of Indigenous language and materials. There is also new money for the growth of artificial intelligence sector and the much-anticipated revamping of innovation funding programs.

Yet the biggest digital implications may ultimately come from the policy reforms. First up may be new digital sales taxes. The budget includes a commitment to extend sales taxes to ride sharing companies such as Uber, a move that seems likely to ultimately lead to a broader extension of sales taxes to digital services such as Netflix.

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March 22, 2017 2 comments News
BC and Canada partner on investment in clean-energy technology by Province of British Columbia (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/RFvhsD

How Navdeep Bains Can Get His #Innovation Groove Back

The release of today’s federal budget is expected to include a significant emphasis on innovation, with the government revealing how it plans to spend (or re-allocate) hundreds of millions of dollars that is intended to support innovation. Canada’s dismal innovation record needs attention, but spending our way to a more innovative economy is unlikely to yield the desired results. While Navdeep Bains, the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Minister, has talked for months about the importance of innovation, Toronto Star columnist Paul Wells today delivers a cutting but accurate assessment of those efforts:

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March 22, 2017 2 comments News
eli lilly drug cabinet by sciondriver (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/cK3ExS

Panel Rejects Eli Lilly Claim Over Canadian Patent Law, Orders Company to Pay Millions in Costs

In the early 1990s, Eli Lilly applied for patent protection in Canada for two chemical compounds, olanzapine and atomoxetine. The company had already obtained patents over the compounds, but asserted that it had evidence to support new uses for the compounds that merited further protection. The Canadian patent office granted the patents based on the content in the applications, but they remained subject to challenge.

Both patents ultimately were challenged on the grounds that there was insufficient evidence at the time of the applications to support the company’s claims. The Federal Court of Canada agreed, invalidating both patents. Eli Lilly proceeded to appeal the decision to the Federal Court of Appeal and later to the Supreme Court of Canada. The company lost the appeals, as the courts upheld the decision to invalidate the patents.

Under most circumstances, that would conclude the legal story as several Canadian courts reviewed Eli Lilly’s patent applications and ruled that they failed to meet the standards for patentability. Yet in June 2013, the company served notice that it planned to use the ISDS provisions in the North American Free Trade Agreement to claim that in light of the decisions, Canada was not compliant with its patent law obligations under the treaty. As compensation, Eli Lilly sought at least $500 million in damages.

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March 21, 2017 2 comments News