Forms of intellectual property:

Almost every product and service we interact with on a daily basis is protected by, or protectable by, numerous Intellectual Property (IP) rights. IP can protect a product’s look (industrial designs & copyright) manufacturing method or ideas (patents), creative expression (copyright), and the manufacturer or distributor’s identity (trade-marks). While what is protected and the strength of protection varies by country, the following general principles are widely applicable, although greatly simplified:



Patents are monopolies granted to inventors by the state in exchange for publication and future use by the public of their inventions. They are exclusionary rights provided for a limited period of time and must be maintained by payments of annuities. At the end of the patent period, the exclusive rights will expire and the invention will be available for public use.

The procedure and requirements for a patent grant varies across jurisdictions but usually includes a set of claims that define the scope of the inventor’s exclusionary rights and a description of the invention sufficient to allow others in the field to practice it. In order to obtain a patent the invention must be new (novel), useful (utility), and non-obvious (inventive/not predictable). While many patents have heralded new industries, others are more humorous than ground breaking

More information on Canadian patents and a list of government fees can be found at the Canadian Intellectual Property website here (



Copyright is the exclusive rights granted by the state to the creator of an original work that may be literary, artistic, dramatic, musical, as well as computer programs. The owner of a copyright has the exclusive right to control how the original work is to be used and exploited; that is ‘the right to copy’. Copyright length varies by country and subject matter. In Canada the majority of works are protected for the life of the author and a further 50 years. Elsewhere, such as the USA, it is for the life of the author and a further 70 years.

More information on Canadian Copyrights and a list of government fees can be found at the Canadian Intellectual Property website here  (



A Trade-mark is the registration of a distinctive word, symbol or design (or a combination of these) that serves to identify, indicate and distinguish an individual, organization, company or public entity from that of others in the market. It protects reputation.

Trade-mark protection is related to the law of ‘passing off’ which developed in England to protect the reputation of traders from being usupred by other parties, who would pass themselves off as the original manufacturer.

Over time this reputational protection has come to cover names, logo’s, and in some countries, shapes, designs, colours, scents and sounds, so long as they are associated with the company by the relevant analytical group (usually fictional consumers in a hurry or some variant thereof).

In Canada, Provincial law still protects businesses who have established a reputation from passing off. Registering your trade-marks Federally is generally advisable, as it provides a greater scope of protection, national protection, and easier (lower cost) enforcement of your rights.

Trade-Mark is a truly Canadian spelling, being caught between the UK spelling (Trademark) and the US spelling (Trade Mark).

More information on Canadian Trade-Marks and a list of government fees can be found at the Canadian Intellectual Property website here


Other Rights

Various other rights are not covered above, but are also included under the general category of intellectual property rights. Common examples that frequently come up include confidentiality/trade-secret protection, domain name registration, and industrial designs.

Less common are some of the more specific rights, such as Circuit Topography rights in Canada, or Vessel Hull Design rights in the US.