From your logos to your product designs, your small business has many unique intellectual properties. As a new small business owner, you want to protect your ideas to ensure that you — and only you — reap the commercial benefits of your creations. Luckily for you, Canadian intellectual property law and the Canadian Intellectual Property Office are here to help.
What is Intellectual Property?
Intellectual property can be defined as any original idea, design, or invention. Whether you’re an artist creating paintings for an exhibition, or an electrical engineer working on a new circuit pattern, you’re dealing with intellectual property. The definition for intellectual property is quite broad, so it’s helpful to divide it into more recognizable categories. Trademarks, patents, industrial designs, copyrights, and even trade secrets can be protected under Canadian intellectual property law. It’s worth taking a look at two of the most common business-related property types: trademarks and patents.
Almost every business, regardless of size, has at least one trademark. Trademarks are defined as any distinctive combination of words, sounds, or visual designs that are associated with your company. Things like slogans, advertising jingles, and logos are considered trademarks.
The process of applying for a trademark involves several steps. First, the CIPO will receive your initial application, and check to ensure that you’ve included all relevant information and that your trademark is eligible for protection. If your trademark gets approval from the CIPO, they will then publish it in the weekly “Trade-Mark Journal.”
At this point in the process, other business owners who see your new trademark in the journal have a two-month window, beginning from the time of publication, to oppose your application. This may occur if someone thinks your property is too similar to an existing protected trademark. If your application is opposed, you will receive a copy of the statement of opposition, after which you will have two months to either dispute the opposition or withdraw your application.
This process ensures that your trademark is unique, and doesn’t unintentionally appropriate someone else’s intellectual property. Once your application is approved, these measures are in place to protect your trademark.
Unlike trademarks, patents protect inventions, processes, and improvements to existing technology. If you’ve manufactured a new type of kitchen utensil, for example, you could apply for a patent. If your company makes an existing object out of a novel material, you can patent the formula or recipe. For example, if you manufacture edible forks, you could apply for a patent on the particular recipe of starches and binders that you use. If someone else discovers a different combination of ingredients that makes those edible forks even stronger, they can apply for a patent on that improvement without affecting your existing patent.
There are two major steps in applying for a patent: application, and examination. To submit a patent application, you need to prepare an abstract, along with specifications for and drawings of the item in question. Your application and abstract will be noted, but not necessarily examined and approved right away. This allows you to informally protect your invention while it is still in the testing and prototype phase.
After filing your application, you may wait up to five years before requesting examination. During examination, your patent application is reviewed and made public, so that it may be opposed, just like a trademark.
Other types of intellectual property like copyrights, industrial designs, and integrated circuit topographies, follow similar application conventions, each with their own specifications. Protecting your intellectual property can be a lengthy process and sometimes a costly one. However, you can consider these protections an investment — you’re ensuring that you own all the rights to your own creations, and can subsequently use your ideas to turn a profit.