Intellectual property takes on many forms: words, images, sounds, industrial designs and even ideas. As a freelancer, protecting the value of your brand should be at the very top of your to-do list. After all, your intellectual property is what makes you unique and how you stand out in a competitive field. Large companies take concrete steps to protect their intellectual property, and you should too.
Do Your Research
Before you even start using a brand, logo or business name, make sure it’s available. In Canada, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office is responsible for the registration of trademarks, patents and industrial processes. The CIPO’s website contains a database of all registrations and is easily searchable for free.
The CIPO database is a good starting point, but not all intellectual property is registered. Your search should also include regular internet search engines. Take look at industry-specific publications and websites for your type of business to ensure that your proposed brand will not be confused with someone else’s in your field.
Register Your Rights
By law, you own your intellectual property the moment you create it. No one else can copy you. Where problems occur is when you need to prove that you were the first person to come up with and use a particular brand, logo or process. Registration of your intellectual property with the CIPO solves that problem. Once your rights are publicly registered, they are protected, and you can use the registration in court as proof of ownership.
The registration process for trademarks and copyrights is not very complex or expensive. You may choose to do it yourself or hire a lawyer or agent who specializes in the field. Registration of a patent tends to be more complex, as it requires more technical expertise to explain the innovation being patented. In all cases, registration can be fairly long and usually takes one to two years to complete.
There is no international registration per se, even though many countries have reached bilateral and multilateral agreements. If you plan on doing business in countries other than Canada, find out the rules of registration in those jurisdictions ahead of time.
Monitor the Competition
Once you’ve created and registered your intellectual property, you still need to protect it on an ongoing basis. The more success you have, the bigger the temptation for someone to copy your idea will be. For brands and logos, monitor the internet by regularly searching for your intellectual property. Be sure to include an image search for any logos you may have created. Here again, focus on websites and publications within your particular industry, since that is where you are most likely to see competitors misusing your intellectual property
If you do come across such a misuse, act immediately. The first step is usually to send a cease and desist letter, often from a lawyer. If there is great urgency, you can also go to court to get an injunction against your competitor. At this point, it is a good idea to consult an expert.