Why intellectual property is important for businesses

Intellectual property refers to the legal rights that result from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary and artistic fields. The Canadian Intellectual Property Office can help you establish and protect your intellectual property rights and boost your market competitiveness.

Many businesses have valuable intellectual property rights they could exercise more effectively. Others could be unintentionally infringing on intellectual property rights, unaware of the legal consequences this could have. Intellectual property (IP) is usually defined as the legal rights that result from intellectual activity in the industrial, scientific, literary and artistic fields. These rights are protected in a variety of ways, including patents, trademarks, copyrights and industrial designs.

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) can help you establish and protect your intellectual property rights and boost your market competitiveness.

What is an intellectual asset?

An intellectual asset is anything that is related to an idea and has a market value like a tangible asset. It could be an invention, a new technology or brand, original software, a novel design, a unique process, etc.

Intellectual assets must be used strategically to run a successful business in today's knowledge-based economy. Well-protected intellectual assets can give a business a lucrative competitive advantage over other market players.

How to protect your intellectual assets

Competing businesses may be tempted to use some of your intellectual assets if they are not properly protected. The first step toward protecting your assets is to keep them as confidential as possible using tools and principles such as non-disclosure agreements and trade secret protection.

The second step is to make the strategic decision to keep information as confidential as possible or to make it public by obtaining official intellectual property rights such as a trademark or patent.

Ownership of most intellectual assets can be made official with intellectual property rights.

In Canada, you can protect your intellectual property rights by applying for a patent or applying to register a trademark, industrial design or copyright with the CIPO.

What are patents, industrial designs, trademarks and copyrights?

A patent is a government grant giving an inventor the right to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention. A Canadian patent applies within Canada for 20 years from the date of filing of a patent application. The patent application is available to the public 18 months after filing. Patents cover new inventions (process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter), or any new and useful improvement to an existing invention.

An industrial design is the visual feature of configuration, pattern or ornament, or any combination of these features, applied to a finished article. For example, the shape of a table or the shape and decoration of a spoon may be industrial designs. An industrial design must have features that appeal to the eye. To be eligible for registration, your design must be original.

A trademark is a word (or words), a sound (or sounds), a design or a combination of these used to identify the goods or services of one person or organization and to distinguish these goods or services from those of others in the marketplace.

In general, copyright means the sole right to produce or reproduce a work or a substantial part of it in any form. It includes the right to perform the work or any substantial part of it or, in the case of a lecture, to deliver it. If the work is unpublished, copyright includes the right to publish the work or any substantial part of it. Copyright protects literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works (including computer programs) as well as things such as performer's performances, sound recordings and communication signals.

Eyeing foreign markets?

Whether you're thinking of opening up shop at home or abroad, you need to take the necessary measures to protect your intellectual property assets and use them to their full potential. IP registered in Canada is protected domestically only, so you will need similar protection in every target foreign market.

To learn more about the 8 steps to managing your IP for export, see the Intellectual Property for Exporting Businesses page of the CIPO website.

For information on how to break into foreign markets, see Determining the best way to break into a foreign market.

To learn more about IP

For more about IP rights, their strategic value, where to learn more and how IP plays into your day-to-day operations, the CIPO has created 2 types of presentations in association with partner organizations.

  • IP Bank of Speakers: As part of this collaborative effort, the CIPO and the Intellectual Property Institute of Canada (IPIC) offer 3 free presentations on IP as a strategic business instrument.
  • IP Case Studies: These case studies use hypothetical scenarios to demonstrate the strategic value of IP. Though they are fictional, they depict realistic situations you could encounter as a business owner. Topics include software patentability, research ethics, IP ownership, trade secrets, industrial designs and the value of trademarks.

Businesses should take advantage of the vast body of technical and trade information available in patent, trademark and copyright databases to learn about past and recent advances, identify potential partners and keep tabs on the competition's innovations.