What is Intellectual Property (IP)?
Intellectual property (IP) is the legal protection of an intangible asset that has commercial value. IP can protect assets such as an idea, creation, invention, symbol, name, design or image. IP assets can also include industrial design, new technologies and original processes. IP gives your business a strong competitive advantage, and if you license it out, a significant source of revenue.
Keep your intellectual property strictly confidential before and during your IP application process. Use tools such as non-disclosure agreements or trade secrets, and only share ideas and information with those you trust. Scan your business for potential sources of intellectual property. As the
owner, decide if you benefit more from protecting your IP with trade secrets and confidentiality agreements, or the right to legal protection. The latter requires you to apply and register with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) and disclose the details of your IP, sometimes to the public, but legally gives you exclusive rights.
Applications are submitted to the CIPO and reviewed. The process for each IP registration is different, so be sure to read about the application expectation and other tips on the CIPO website
Before you submit an application, search for existing IP registrations
This guide reviews the four main categories of IP and when a business will find IP appropriate.
A trademark is a unique combination of letters, words, sounds or designs that distinguishes a company’s goods or services from those of others and is easily identified. Once your brand image has power, trademark registration ensures the brand and reputation of your company are protected and controlled, and not misused by others. Registration gives the owner the exclusive rights to the name and the ability to flag infringements. A trademarked brand can also be used as an asset to leverage financing.
Trademark vs. Trade Name
A trade name is the legal name of your business and is registered through provincial corporate authorities. In Saskatchewan, trade names are business names registered with Information Services Corporation. A trade name can also be registered as a trademark, but only if it is identified with the specific product or service that you offer.
For example, Coca-Cola is a trade name and trademark because it is used to identify both the business and the product line. PowerAde (a Coca-Cola Product) is only a trademark that is owned and controlled by the Coca-Cola Company. The company probably files taxes under Coca-Cola, not PowerAde.
The home goods company, Unilever is a registered trade name and is used to file the company’s income tax and pay employees. However, Unilever knows that most consumers do not associate the trade name with the hundreds of branded products it owns (Dove, Lipton, Breyers, Becel), so these brands are eligible for trademarking, but Unilever may not be.
Learn more or apply for a trademark here
A patent is a legal exclusive right to all aspects of an invention and gives you the right to stop others from making, using or selling your invention. If you think you have a patentable product or service, compare it against the basic criteria below:
- New — must be the first of its kind in the world
- Useful — must work or have a useful function
- Inventive — must be a new development or an improvement of an existing technology that would not have been obvious to someone working in your area of specialty
The invention can be:
- A product (e.g. door lock)
- A composition (e.g. chemical composition used in lubricants for door locks)
- A machine (e.g. for making door locks)
- A process (e.g. a method for making door locks)
- An improvement on any of these
Patenting means people may read about your invention, but they must get your permission or pay you to use, sell or make it. Patents are granted to the first applicant, so you should consider filing your patent as soon as possible after completion of your invention. The services of a registered patent agent can be utilized to help with understanding patent law and filing applications.
Learn more or apply for a patent here
Copyrights give the owner control over how work is reproduced, published or performed in order to protect its value. Most copyrights protect literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works. Computer software programs can also be copyrighted.
The creator of the work has full control on how the work is used. The creator can charge and/or grant permission and limit the use.
Generally, copyrights last the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and for 50 years following. Employers have copyrights for work created by employees, unless otherwise stated.
Technically, an original work is automatically protected by copyright the moment it is created, but by registering your copyright you receive proof of ownership and a certificate issued by the CIPO that can be used in court against infringements, or to receive royalties and license fees. Royalties are the sums paid to copyright owners for the sale of their works.
Determining the value of an original creation is difficult because while some might find your work valuable, impactful or beautiful, others may not. Regardless, protection and understanding your rights ensures your work is always protected and not replicated without your permission.
Learn more or apply for a copyright here
Industrial designs are the visual features of a product that are distinctive and attractive and gives the product a competitive edge. If you are producing distinctive-looking products, you will want to register your designs allowing you to gain exclusive, legally enforceable rights for up to 10 years in Canada. You can sell these rights to someone else or license your design for others to manufacture, use or sell it.
Industrial designs protect the product’s appearance; not the details of what it is made of, how it works (i.e. functionality). The design has to be original; it cannot closely resemble another design.
Registering your industrial design will provide you with an exclusive right to your design for up to 10 years after registration. For example, a repeat pattern applied to wallpaper, the shape of a perfume bottle, or the decoration applied to a t-shirt are all eligible for industrial design registration.
You cannot register processes, methods of construction, ideas, raw materials or the function of a product.
Learn more or apply for an industrial design here.