As an entrepreneur, an important part of success from a business venture comes from the development, commercialization and enforcement of intellectual property (IP) assets.
Even though protection for protection’s sake will not yield positive quarterly earnings, it is important to invest in the development, maintenance and protection of your property, whether it is intellectual or physical. Consequently, in order to maximize the use and impact of your IP assets, you need to understand what IP is and how it can be used optimally.
Generally, IP refers to creations of the mind. In business, the legal framework attempts to strike a balance between the sharing and access to knowledge and the protection of commercially valuable IP. As such, IP has strict guidelines in terms of definition and use.
Federally, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) provides information and services for the registration and protection of some intellectual property (for a fee). Other forms of intellectual property may be protected at provincial and/or federal levels:
- Patents are government grants, sanctioned under the Patent Act, the Patent Rules, and international treaties, which provides for the right to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention. In Canada, a patentable invention must satisfy requirements for novelty, non-obviousness and utility. It is crucial to keep in mind that the public disclosure of an invention of more than the allowable one-year grace period prior to filing a patent application may result in the substantial loss of international patent rights. Patent lawyers and/or agents should be consulted before you invest your money in costly patent applications, especially if you are considering filing in more than one country.
- Industrial designs are original visual features of shapes, configurations, patterns or ornaments, or any combination of these features, applied to a finished article. These features must appeal to the eye and are protected under the Industrial Design Act for up to 10 years.
- Trademarks are, under the Trademarks Act and the Trademarks Regulations, one or a combination of words, sounds or designs used to distinguish the goods or services of one person or organization from those of others in the marketplace. CIPO maintains a central trademarks database that provides information about trademarks that have been filed, registered, or abandoned in Canada. Trademark protection is a useful tool that helps you ensure your corporate identity or brand name is protected.
- Copyright refers to the expression of an idea in a fixed form (in writing or recording), not the idea itself. The Copyright Act and the Copyright Regulations provides protection for literary, artistic, dramatic or musical works (including computer programs) and other subject matter known as performer’s performances, sound recordings and communication signals. The Copyrights Database lists Canadian copyrights registered as of October 1991. Copyright protection generally expires at the end of the calendar year 50 years after the author dies, but is subject to exceptions.
- Trade secrets or confidential information refers to commercially valuable information that has been agreed, for example through Non-Disclosure Agreements, to be kept secret, communicated to others in confidence and kept out of the public domain. Unlike other forms of IP, the holder of a trade secret cannot seek registration or a grant from the government of Canada. The advantage of maintaining trade secrets is that it may be held out of the public domain indefinitely, as long as the secret is kept safe. The Coca-Cola recipe is an example of a trade secret.
The degree and time period of IP protection and the method of enforcement are varied. Even though the rules are complex, IP ownership is a powerful tool that can be used to attract venture capital, angel investors and other financing organizations. Similar to physical property, IP rights must be secured, maintained, valued, properly managed and enforced when infringed in order to extract their full value.
As a result, IP assets can be used effectively to spur the success and growth of a business venture, but it is not the only tool in an entrepreneur’s toolbox. Success comes from all angles.
Note: The content in this article is for purposes of general information only. It is not legal advice.
Photo Copyright: Marynchenko Oleksandr