CES 2017 – Lessons learned

The range of smart technologies; the phenomenon of trolls; discussion with the federal Minister of Innovation: learn more about these 100% CES themes with Louis-Pierre Gravelle, attorney, engineer and patent agent in Canada and the U.S., and a partner at Robic.


I attended CES in Las Vegas for the first time this year. I had heard of it, I followed the news, I saw the photos of the coolest and latest gadgets. What convinced me to go this year was the opportunity to accompany a delegation of Quebec companies to the event, led by the Montreal Metropolitan Board of Trade.

Discussions with Canadian businesses and the federal Minister of Innovation

The first event I attended was a reception at Canada Connects, where Quebec companies could meet with Canadian companies from Western Canada, but above all had the chance to chat with the Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development, Mr. Navdeep Bains. This was the first time in the history of the CES that a federal minister was present. Not only was it possible for him to visit Canadian companies on the floor, but he also participated in a panel on smart cities. We will say what we want, but the presence of the Minister at CES is a fairly clear signal that this government is putting the emphasis on innovation, which should be very encouraging for Quebec and Canadian companies.

The range of smart technologies and absence of cleantech

As for the glitz, there was something for all tastes. paper thin OLED 4K TV screens, domestic robots (a coffee with your newspaper?), 3D printers, a plethora of connected objects of all kinds, intelligent cars, drones, almost everything was in an exhibition stand. Car manufacturers dominated the floors with their connected vehicles, traditional, hybrid or electric. BMW had a kiosk outside where the most patient attendees could test drive the latest models, from a Series 1 to the latest i8.

What marked me by its absence was "green" technologies. There was an exhibitor with rechargeable batteries, and only one company that I saw that had solar panels.

The phenomenon of trolls in technology

Having walked a few kilometers to visit the various booths, it surprisingly is not a cool gadget hidden in the confines of CES that most marked me, but rather a conference. "Trolls and Tech: How to Fix Patents" was a discussion between companies and legislative representatives on the issue of trolls in the US, and how to fix the problem.

The discussion was prefaced by an address by USPTO Commissioner Michelle Lee. She was the first commissioner to attend CES in 2016, and returning in 2017. She pointed out that part of the problem related to trolls is the lower quality of patents that were issued at the beginning of the century. To overcome this problem, she highlighted the initiatives deployed to improve quality, lower processing times and increase the tools available to examiners.

Speakers mentioned that the phenomenon of trolls siphons $ 1.5M a week from entrepreneurs, SMEs and other players in the US economy. Recognizing the efforts of Ms. Lee, Julie Samuels of TECH NYC nevertheless chastised the US Congress for its inaction in recent years to deal with this phenomenon.

This discussion reminds me of how imperative it is for Quebec and Canadian companies preparing to launch a product in the US market to perform clearance searches. This search should be done as soon as the product is ready to be launched, but even better, at the design stage. Indeed, searches carried out upstream of commercialization, and ideally updated regularly, can enable the company to avoid exploring solutions that have already been tried by others, and to identify the potential risks of receiving a demand letter. Once the risk is identified, it is much cheaper to adjust the product during the development stage than when a finished product is about to be launched.

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