Intellectual property is a fundamentally intangible concept. The basic rule is that if you invent, design, draw or imagine something, you have an exclusive right to benefit commercially from it. The rights derived from your creations are property in the legal sense of the term. As such, you own them as soon as you create them. However, proving their existence and the fact that they originated from you, are not always simple. Learn more about Canadian intellectual property law and how you can protect your trademarks, patents, copyrights and industrial designs.
The Canadian Intellectual Property Office
The Canadian Intellectual Property Office is the governmental agency responsible for the administration and processing of most intellectual property in Canada. CIPO administers the laws and registries related to patents, trademarks, copyrights, industrial designs and integrated circuit topographies.
Essentially, if you need to know anything about intellectual property in Canada, CIPO is the place to start. The only real exception relates to plant breeders’ rights (applicable to certain new plant varieties), which are administered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.
There is no single international intellectual property registration body. If you do business in other countries, you must register on a country-by-country basis. Canada is a member of several bilateral and multilateral treaties that make international protection easier, so you should verify the exact situation in the countries where you plan to do business.
In a word, your trademark is your brand. Legally, a trademark is a combination of letters, words, sounds or designs that distinguishes your goods or services from those of others in the marketplace. For example, in Canada, anyone who hears the words “Tim Horton’s” immediately thinks of coffee and can visualize a yellow logo with cursive writing.
By definition, a trademark is unique. To be valuable, it does not need to be a nationally recognized icon. If your brand is well-known in your community or industry, then it is important to protect it. To do so, you can register it with CIPO. By doing so, you will benefit from legal protection from misuse by others and gain exclusive rights to use it throughout Canada for a 15-year renewable term. Proof of registration with CIPO is also accepted as evidence in court.
A patent is a form of protection that applies to the invention of new products or to the improvement of existing ones. Registering a patent is a more complex process than registering a trademark because you need to be able to demonstrate the technical innovation you are seeking to protect.
As a rule, to be eligible for patent registration, your invention must be new, useful and inventive. It can be a product, a composition, a machine or a process. If you register a patent, no other person can use the invention without your permission.
Copyright is a branch of intellectual property that applies to original literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work. Over time, it has been defined by the courts as the exclusive legal right to produce, reproduce, publish or perform an original literary, artistic, dramatic or musical work. Usually, if you are the creator of such a work, you are the owner of the copyright. However, it is frequent for creators to cede all or part of these rights to employers, contractors or business partners in exchange for some form of remuneration, such as a salary, royalty or participation in a project. For example, someone who writes a screenplay can cede the rights to a movie studio in exchange for a participation in the movie’s ticket sales.
You automatically own the copyrights to anything you create. However, to strengthen this ownership and make it easier to prove, you can register your copyright with CIPO and get a certificate of registration.
An industrial design is akin to a copyright, but it applies to physical products. It is the elements that give a particular product a special appeal and distinguishes it from its competitors. CIPO gives several examples of industrial designs: the contour of a car hood, the pattern of a knitted sweater or the shape of a computer monitor.
Industrial design is a key component of some companies’ business plans. The best-known multinational example is probably IKEA, which has become a world furniture giant in large part due to its unique designs.
If you have created a unique product, you can register your industrial design with CIPO. If you do, you will have an exclusive and legally enforceable right to the design for 10 years.
As with a copyright, the owner of an industrial design may sell or licence it to third parties. For example, if you have designed a new and unique lamp, but you do not have the capacity to produce and market it, you could sell it to an international lighting products distribution company for a fixed amount or in exchange for royalties.