A guide to industrial designs
Learn what industrial designs are and what makes them "registrable." Find out why you would want to register, and how to do it.
This electronic version of the guide is the official version. If there are inconsistencies between this guide and the applicable legislation, the legislation must be followed. Read our terms and conditions.
On this page:
- Understanding industrial designs—The basics
- When to file an application
- What to consider before filing an application
- Prepare your industrial design application
- Electronic services
- The registration process
- Industrial design information—Beyond the basics
- Frequently asked questions
Understanding industrial designs—The basics
This guide is not a complete text on how Canadian law affects industrial designs. You will get a general overview of the registration process.
Industrial designs are important for success
A well-designed chair is not just comfortable to sit on, but also lovely to look at. This is true of many manufactured products; their value to people depends not only on what they do, but also on how they look.
Manufacturers put a lot of money and know-how into their industrial designs and this is why an original design is considered to be valuable IP.
Your industrial design is worth a lot of time and money, and it may make the difference between whether or not you or your company is successful. It pays to protect your hard work!
If you are the owner of an original industrial design, registering the design will give you the exclusive right to it. The Industrial Design Act, like other IP legislation, protects owners and also helps people share what they know in an orderly way.
The way to register your industrial design is through CIPO's Industrial Design Office.
The rights you get by registering apply here in Canada but not in other countries. You need to apply for registration in other countries if you want to be protected there. In addition, foreign registrations do not protect industrial designs here in Canada.
Industrial designs defined
Industrial designs are about how things look. More technically speaking, they are the visual features of shape, 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.
If you want to register an industrial design, it has to be original.
People sometimes confuse industrial designs with patents, trademarks, copyright and integrated circuit topographies. Although all of these are forms of intellectual property, they differ in these important ways:
- Industrial designs are the visual features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornament, or any combination of these features applied to a finished article.
- Patents cover new and useful inventions (product, composition, machine, process) or any new and useful improvement to an existing invention.
- Trademarks 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.
- Copyright 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.
- Integrated circuit topographies are the three-dimensional configurations of electronic circuits embodied in integrated circuit products or layout designs.
What a registered industrial design protects
Registering your industrial design will provide you with an exclusive right to your design for up to 10 years after you register. Examples of industrial designs you could register include:
- a repeat pattern applied to wallpaper
- the shape of a perfume bottle
- the decoration applied to a t-shirt
What you cannot register
- a method of construction
- an idea (for example, the idea of putting advertising on bus shelters)
- the materials used in making something (for example, the material a protective mask is made of)
- the function of something (for example, the way an MP3 player works)
Who can apply for registration?
Only the proprietor (owner) of an industrial design or an agent working for the owner can file an application. The proprietor is usually the creator of the design, someone who has hired the creator, or someone who has come to own the design through an arrangement such as an assignment.
When to file an application
In Canada, you can apply to register your industrial design at any time if your design has never been published (i.e., you have never made it available to the public).
If your design has been published, you must file for registration within the next 12 months.
Help ensure a speedy process
CIPO processes applications on a first-come, first-served basis.
If you prepare your application properly, the registration should happen fairly quickly as long as your design is found to be original. If your application is not complete or if changes are needed, the process will take longer. To shorten the time to registration, you should reply to office reports as quickly as you can.
Your design is protected for 10 years
Your industrial design registration lasts for 10 years, beginning on the date of registration. You must pay a maintenance fee before five years and six months after your registration date or your protection will end.
What to consider before filing an application
CIPO will give you the basic information you need to file your own application; however, we cannot complete your application for you, search existing designs for you or give you an opinion about whether your design is a good one.
Search the Canadian Industrial Designs Database online
A good first step is to do a search of existing industrial designs. This will help you know whether your design is original, and it will also let you see how others have prepared their drawings and descriptions. CIPO keeps records of all industrial designs filed and registered in Canada dating back to 1861.
You can search by going on the Canadian Industrial Designs Database. The database is simple to use and free of charge. You can do searches using the classification code, classification text, client reference number, court order number, name of current owner, date of registration, description, interested parties and title.
You can also do a search in person at CIPO's Client Service Centre. CIPO's intellectual property information officers can help you understand how to do the search (but they cannot do the search for you).
Consider using an agent
To file a good industrial design application, you need to pay close attention to details and understand the requirements of the Industrial Design Act and Industrial Design Regulations. You may wish to hire a legal professional knowledgeable in the area of IP to write and prosecute (follow through on) your application.
Prepare your industrial design application
- Only the proprietor (owner) of the industrial design or an agent working for the owner can file an application.
- Your application form must include the following:
- Your name and complete street address
- The name and complete street address of your agent, if you have hired one
- A title identifying the finished article to which your design relates
- A description of the design
- The name and complete street address of a representative in Canada, if you have no office or place of business in Canada
- Drawings or photographs
The application must include a title that identifies the finished article to which you have applied your design. The title should be the common name that the public generally knows and uses (e.g., "lighter", "chair", "spoon", "t-shirt").
Your description, along with the drawings and the title, must give an accurate picture of the design. It must include the features of the design and where they are in the article (i.e., does your design relate to the entire article or to just a part of the article?)
The following are some things you should keep in mind when you write your description:
- Describe only the things about your design that can be seen (i.e., features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornament, or a combination of these). Do not say how the article was made, what it is made of, how it functions, its size or its dimensions. For example, a tread on the sole of a boot may work in a certain way (to prevent slipping). Your description should only describe how it looks.
- Your description must also make clear where the design is in the article. The design may relate to the whole article or just a part of the article. For example, you may want to protect the shape of your entire chair or you may want to protect only the shape of the arms of your chair. Here are some related sample descriptions:
- The design consists of the features of shape of the arms of the chair as shown in the drawings.
- The design consists of the features of shape, configuration, pattern and ornamentation of the entire chair as shown in the drawings.
- You may choose to give a more detailed description by using descriptive words. For example: "The design consists of generally rectangular arms with a convex upper surface and concave lower surface, a longitudinal groove extending the entire length of each arm on the outer side edges." Whichever way you write your description, it must be clear whether the design's features are in the entire article, or just a part of it.
- You might also want to refer to the most important feature of your design. For example: "The design consists of the features of shape of the arms of the chair as shown in the drawings. The most significant feature is the diamond-shaped recess on the top surface of each arm."
Keep in mind that you need to give an accurate, adequate description of your design and make sure it covers all of the design's features.
You can find more information about descriptions in the Industrial Design Office Practices.
Drawings and photographs
Your application must include at least one drawing or photograph of your design applied to the finished article. Drawings and photographs must meet the following conditions:
- Content—The drawings or photographs must show the complete, finished article; in other words, you must show the article in an assembled state. You must also show it alone against a neutral (blank) background. Your drawing(s) or photograph(s) should show every feature of the design as it is applied to the article. You may use stippled or broken lines to show parts of the article that are not part of the design, but you must show the design portion in solid lines. You can include environment (subject matter that is not part of the article or design) in stippled lines and in a single view, provided that the environment helps to make clear what the article is or what its design features are. You should not include writing such as the title, text that describes the article, or dimensions on the drawing.
- Quality—Drawings or photographs must be of high enough quality that CIPO can make copies of them electronically in black and white. The drawings or photographs must show clearly and accurately the features of the design that you identified in the description portion of your application.
- Number and type of views—Your drawings or photographs should include as many views as you need to properly show the features of the design. Usually, applicants show: perspective, front, back, top, bottom, right side, left side. You should number each view in the following way: Figure 1, Figure 2, etc.
- Figure reference—If your drawings or photographs contain more than one figure, you should include a figure reference at the end of the description. For example: "Figure 1 is a bottom view of the chair."
- Miscellaneous views—Occasionally, conventional views will not fully show all the features of your design. In that case, you will need to include the following views as well: views showing open and closed positions, cross-sectional views, fragmentary views, and views showing indefinite length and repeat patterns.
You can find more information on drawings and photographs in the Industrial Design Office Practices.
You must pay a fee to have your application examined by the Industrial Design Office. You can pay by credit card (VISA, MasterCard or American Express), direct payment, deposit account, postal money order or cheque payable in Canadian dollars to the Receiver General for Canada. Do not add federal and provincial taxes.
For more information about fees, contact the Client Service Centre.
Send us your application
You may send your completed application electronically or by mail to CIPO.
Corresponding with the Industrial Design Office
If you wish to do business with the Industrial Design Office by mail, please address all your correspondence to:
Office of the Commissioner of Patents
Industrial Design Division
Canadian Intellectual Property Office
Place du Portage I
50 Victoria Street, Room C114
Gatineau QC K1A 0C9
Fax: 1-819-953-CIPO (2476)
Visit our correspondence procedures page for more information.
If you have received your application number, you can check the status of your application online. For more detailed information on the status of your application, please contact us with the application number, the title and the applicant name. If you have hired an agent, your agent must be the one contacting us.
CIPO will answer general enquiries, but cannot:
- tell you whether you should file an application
- tell you whether your design meets registration criteria before you file an application
- advise you on possible infringement of an industrial design
- provide any other legal advice
When you use our electronic services, you can:
- file an industrial design application
- pay maintenance fees
- send us general correspondence
- order copies of documents
You can also find industrial design forms on our website, which you can download and send to us by regular mail.
The registration process
Once you have sent us your industrial design application, the design registration process has six phases:
- initial processing (including the issuance of a filing certificate)
- preliminary examination
1. Initial processing
Our staff will review your application to make sure you have met the basic requirements, including those required for a filing date. If you have met them, we will send you a filing certificate to let you know that we have received your application and have given it a filing date. The certificate also shows your application number, which you can refer to in later correspondence. If your application is not complete, the Industrial Design Office will send you a notice telling you what is missing.
Next, we will classify your application according to the particular type of article to which it relates.
3. Preliminary examination
In this phase, an examiner will review your application to make sure the title, description and drawings or photographs are clear in defining what features the design is composed of and what the article is. This is done in order to be able to conduct a search and also to make sure the application relates only to one design or variants (designs that do not differ much from one another).
We will compare your design with pending, registered and published designs for similarities. The examiner will review the results of this search in the examination stage.
An examiner will review your title, description and drawings or photographs to make sure they satisfy the requirements of the Industrial Design Act and Industrial Design Regulations. The examiner will also review the search results to see whether your design is original and whether it has been published for more than one year.
After examination, the examiner will either allow (approve) your application for registration or issue a report (which we will mail to you). The report will set out the examiner's objections and tell you what information you need to add or what changes you need to make.
Responding to the examiner's objections
If you receive an examiner's report with objections, you must provide your response in writing within the required timeframe and include whatever information or amendments the examiner has asked for. If you do not agree with the examiner's objections, you can give your arguments. If you do not understand the examiner's report, you can contact the examiner for clarification.
It is important to remember that if you make changes to your description or drawings after you have filed the application or in response to the examiner's report, you cannot change the design in any major way. If you do, the examiner will reject your new drawings and/or description. If you want to proceed with the new design, you will need to submit a new application (with filing fees), which will get a new filing date.
Once the examiner approves your design, we will register it as soon as possible. We will mail you a certificate of registration that includes a copy of the application and drawing(s) or photograph(s) of the registered design. This certificate is evidence that you own the design and that it is original.
Requesting a review/Making an appeal
If the Industrial Design Office sends you a final report maintaining the objections to registration, you may ask the Patent Appeal Board to review the decision. The Board will make recommendations to the Commissioner of Patents, who will either reverse the decision or support it in a final refusal. If you are still not satisfied, you may appeal the final refusal to the Federal Court of Canada and the Federal Court of Appeal.
7. Other things to consider
Each industrial design application has to be limited to a single design or to variants (designs that do not differ in a major way from one another). You may add variants of the design to your application any time before it is registered.
More than one design
If you include designs in one application that have major differences, the examiner will issue a report with an objection and you will be asked to choose one design and remove the rest from your application. Then, if you wish, you can file a new application (with filing fees) for any design removed from the first application.
In this case, the filing date of the new application will be the same as that of the first application.
Industrial design information—Beyond the basics
Registering an industrial design outside Canada
Registering your design with CIPO gives you exclusive rights in Canada only. To get similar rights in other countries, you must apply for them in each country separately.
Note: If you register an industrial design in Canada before you file an application for it in another country, it could prevent you from receiving a registration in the other country. We recommend that if you intend to file in other countries, you learn about the filing requirements in those countries before you file in Canada.
Canada is signatory to the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. The Paris Convention allows applicants to request "convention priority". This means that someone who has filed an application for industrial design registration in one Convention country will have six months to file an application for the same design in another Convention country and get the same filing date as that given to the first application.
For example, if you applied to register a design in Canada on January 5, 2015, you then have until July 5, 2015 to file for design registration in any other convention country and claim convention priority there (i.e., receive the filing date of January 5, 2015).
Now that you have taken steps to protect your creation, you will want to decide the best way to market it. As the proprietor (owner) of a registered industrial design, you have the exclusive right in Canada to make, import for trade or business, rent or sell the article incorporating that design.
You may also sell all or some of your rights to another party through a transaction known as an "assignment", or you can simply authorize others to use the design subject to stated conditions (known as a "licence").
An assignment happens when you sell all or part of your rights to your industrial design to another individual or organization. The assignment must be in writing, but there are no standard forms for this.
Assignments may be recorded with the Industrial Design Office against both pending and registered designs. You may wish to ask a legal professional knowledgeable in IP for help if you want to prepare assignment documents.
In some cases, you can license your industrial design. When you license your design, you allow someone else to use it with particular terms and conditions set out in a licence agreement.
When you license your design, you continue to own it and you can, in some instances, license to more than one other party.
The requirements for recording licences with the Industrial Design Office are the same as those for assignments. You may wish to ask a legal professional knowledgeable in intellectual property for help if you want to prepare licensing documents.
Marking your products
Although you do not have to mark your product to show that its design is registered as an industrial design, marking is a good idea. The proper mark is a capital "D" inside a circle and the name or abbreviation of the design's owner on the article, its label or packaging.
Marking your product could help you if ever you need to go to court because someone has infringed on your design. It could help show that the infringer was aware that the design was registered.
Enforcing your rights
You may take legal action against anyone who infringes your industrial design in Canada. You must take legal action within three years of the alleged infringement. CIPO will not help you with legal proceedings or police your rights in any way.
Frequently asked questions
1. What is an industrial design?
Industrial designs are the visual features of shape, 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. If you want to register an industrial design, it must be original.
2. What cannot be protected by an industrial design?
- An idea
- A method of construction
- The materials used in the construction of an article
- The function of an article
3. Is there a time limit to file an industrial design application?
In Canada, you can register a design at any time if it has never been published. If your design has been published, you must file for registration within 12 months of that happening.
4. How long does registration last?
Your design is protected for 10 years from the date of registration, as long as you pay a maintenance fee within the first five years and six months of registration.
5. What is maintenance and what is the maintenance fee?
To maintain your exclusive right to the design beyond five years, you must pay the maintenance fee (Item 2 of the list of fees) before the first five-year term ends. If you have not paid the fee by this time, you will have to pay an additional fee (Item 3 of the list of fees) if you submit your payment within six months of the first five-year term expiring. After that six-month period, you cannot maintain your design, even by paying a fee.
6. What documents and fees do I need to submit to register?
- Application form, including a description
- Drawing(s) or photograph(s) of the design as applied to the finished article
Note: Your drawings must show the article and the design features clearly and accurately and be of high enough quality that the Industrial Designs Office can make copies of them in black and white. Your description does not have to detail every aspect of the design but it must state clearly what the design is and what its features are. You should describe only the visual aspects of the design (i.e., shape, configuration, pattern or ornament, or any combination of these). Do not refer to how the article functions or performs.
For a more detailed explanation of drawings and descriptions, see chapter 6 of the Industrial Design Office Practices.
7. How do I request the recordal of an assignment or licence?
To record an assignment or licence, you must file a copy of the agreement along with the prescribed fee for every design affected by the assignment or licence with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. The Office will send you a confirmation of recordal.
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