You certainly all heard about Intellectual Property (IP) and have a general idea of what it refers to, especially if your line of work requires a closer attention to IP issues.
Because of its laws and numerous gray areas, IP can be confusing and you can get lost in it easily. However, there are good resources available online to help you gain more knowledge and guide you in the right direction for making a decision based on your goals or needs.
First of all, let’s get on the same page about the definition of IP. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office uses the World Intellectual Property Organization’s definition: “Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and attics works; designs; and symbols; names and images used in commerce.”
IP issues can occur anytime either from you or someone else, so it is important to be aware of few basic concepts. Those might help you in avoiding a lawsuit or having your works copied and used without your consent.
Let’s look at 5 ways to avoid IP issues.
Know Your Intellectual Assets
What are intellectual assets? According to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), “intellectual assets have commercial value similarly to a tangible asset. These could range from inventions, new technologies, new brands, original software, novel designs, unique processes, etc.”
The first step for you towards IP protection is to identify what your intellectual assets are and if they need protection.
Protect Your Intellectual Assets
By protecting your intellectual assets, you discourage competitors or individuals in capturing some of your works. In Canada, ownership of most intellectual assets can be formalized through the CIPO by submitting applications for a patent, trademark, an industrial design or a copyright.
If you run a business or organization (small or big, it doesn’t matter), it is important that your intellectual assets are protected as it can give you a competitive advantage in your market. Make sure to know what kind of intellectual property you have to ensure proper protection. Find out your kind of IP next.
Find Out Your Kind of IP
Do you know the difference between a patent, industrial design, trademark and copyright? It is good to know if you aren’t certain.
A patent is a government grant giving the right to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention. (Source: CIPO)
An industrial design is the visual features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornament, or any combination of these features, applied to a finished article. (Source: CIPO)
A trademark may be one or a combination of words, sounds or designs used to distinguish the goods or services of one person or organization from those of others in the marketplace. (Source: CIPO)
A copyright is the sole right to produce or reproduce a work or a substantial part of it in any form. It provides protection for literary, artistic, dramatic or musical works (including computer programs) and other subject-matter known as performer's performances, sound recordings and communication signals. (Source: CIPO)
Protect Your Brand
Your brand is what defines your business or organization. Protect it. Everything about your business such as its name, product and service names, slogans, logos, tag lines, etc. form a brand image known from your customers and community.
By registering a trademark, you get exclusive rights on your brand for 15 years in Canada, and it can be renewed. Without protection, a competitor could develop a similar brand copied on yours, thus affecting your image and revenue.
The CIPO has a process in place to register a trademark.
Seek Expert Advice
Seeking expert advice and help for IP issues is recommended. Even if you only need to confirm your thoughts and process, it is worth the extra time and expenses. It is always better to be sure at 100% before making any IP related decisions. Professionals that can help you, include business and legal advisors, registered patent agents or lawyers, registered trademark agents or lawyers, and copyright lawyers. The CIPO also has agents you can speak to.
When producing or using materials, make sure you have the right to use and share. For example, if you are using a photo found online, ensure you have the right to use it and give credit where appropriate. It is better to be safe than sorry, so apply this concept where appropriate. A good way to avoid pitfalls in this case is to use photography or imagery databases destined to the public use as long as you provide the copyright information. Creative Commons in this case is a good and safe resource.
If you are copying and pasting a quote, paragraph or article, use quotation marks and give the source.