Discover intellectual property
Bring your creations to life. Learn why intellectual property matters.
Welcome to the Discover intellectual property online module
Learn the core knowledge and concepts of intellectual property (IP).
- what IP is
- why it matters
- how to protect it
- how to make strategic use of it
Learn why IP is essential for Canadian innovators, entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized businesses in a highly competitive and global marketplace.
This module is aimed at those who would like to learn about IP, such as:
- Canadian small and medium-sized businesses
After completing this module, you will be able to:
- understand what IP is
- distinguish the major forms of IP and their legal rights
- recognize the importance of IP as a valuable business asset
- understand the importance of an IP strategy
- determine if you currently have IP assets worth protecting
What is IP?
IP is all around us, in the clothes we wear, the coffee we buy in the morning, the electronic devices we use every day and the music we listen to on the way to work.
Simply put, IP is a creation of the mind.
IP includes inventions, symbols, logos, pictures, designs, literary and artistic works and many other representations.
IP is called "property" because rights are acquired with ownership.
Here are common examples of IP:
Symbols, images and names used for businesses
IP and IP rights
IP comes in many forms. But that does not mean it is protected.
IP rights, such as patents and trademarks, constitute the legal protection for your IP. They are an exclusive right that also serves as proof that you own the work and that it has become your property. IP rights encourage innovation by providing creators with an exclusive right to prevent others from stealing or taking credit for their innovation.
Canadian Intellectual Property Office
The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) is responsible for the administration and processing of the majority of IP in Canada.
CIPO grants patents for inventions and registers trademarks for products and services, industrial designs for articles with a novel design and copyright for original works.
Why IP matters
IP can be a valuable business asset
You may own physical or tangible assets, such as equipment and inventory. You could also own intangible assets, such as a brand and original works that constitute IP.
IP can increase your competitive edge over others. You have a new product, a reputable brand or a creative design that others don't have.
IP can help build brand recognition and reputation with partners and customers. Your brand becomes your IP and is used to protect your unique identity, image and reputation.
Did you know? Small or medium-sized businesses that hold formal IP are:
- 4x more likely to export
- 2x more likely to be high-growth
- 27% more likely to seek financing
(Source: Survey on Financing and Growth of Small and Medium Enterprises; Statistics Canada; 2017)
Use your IP rights to receive funding and build market shares. Having exclusive rights to innovations is very attractive to investors.
Use your IP rights to generate revenues by selling or licensing your IP to others.
Remember: A strong and diverse IP portfolio can significantly raise the value of your business.
Understand your competitors' IP
Keep up to date with your competitors; identify their existing IP and know what they are working on. This could help you:
- avoid investing money and effort into activities or products that you don't have rights to
- focus the direction of your business toward gaps and openings in the marketplace
- avoid infringing on a competitor's IP, thereby avoiding potential monetary penalties
- determine when your competitors' IP rights expire
Patents protect inventions.
A patent protects new, useful and non-obvious inventions, as well as improvements made to existing technology.
Not all inventions are patentable. Processes, machines, products and chemical compositions may be patented.
The invention must be:
- New – be the first of its kind in the world
- Useful – work at a practical level
- Non-obvious – be inventive to a skilled person in the trade
A patent grants you the right to exclude others from making, using or selling the invention in the country where your patent was granted.
A Canadian patent protects you for up to 20 years from the filing date. It is not renewable.
Trademarks protect brands.
A trademark identifies your business, goods and services and distinguishes them from those of competitors.
It can be one or many words, designs, tastes, textures, moving images, mode of packaging, holograms, sounds, scents, three-dimensional shapes, colours, or any combination of these.
A registered trademark gives you the exclusive right to use the trademark in association with your products and services in Canada for up to 10 years from the registration date.
Trademarks are renewable every 10 years.
Industrial designs are about how something looks. They protect a product's unique appearance, not what it is made of, how it is made or how it works.
They can be found in everyday products, such as the contour of a car hood or the shape or pattern of your favorite shoes. A design must be novel and appeal to the eye.
A registered industrial design gives you the exclusive right to use the design in Canada for up to 15 years.
Technically speaking, it protects a product's shape, configuration, pattern or ornament or any combination of these features.
Copyright protects original and creative works.
Copyright protects many forms of creative expression, including literary, dramatic, artistic and musical works.
- Literary – Books
- Dramatic – Plays
- Artistic – Sculptures, photographs, paintings
- Musical – Musical works
Copyright also protects computer programs and software, as well as performances, sound recordings and communication signals.
It prevents others from reproducing, publishing or performing your original works. It is generally recognized globally.
Copyright lasts for the life of the author plus 50 years in Canada.
A trade secret can be any business information that gets its value from its secrecy, which includes:
- Methods, techniques and processes
- Customer and supplier lists
A trade secret is used used to protect valuable business information that a company does not want the general public to know.
There is no formal application or registration process for trade secrets in Canada.
Protect your trade secrets through:
- Non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements
- Encryption and password protection
- Lock and key
Trade secrets can last a lifetime as long as the secret is maintained. Think of Coca Cola's secret recipe for its popular drink. The secret has been kept for over 100 years.
Protect your innovation from competitors
Protecting your IP assets through IP rights is crucial in protecting your business against infringement by others.
IP rights stop others from using, making or selling your IP assets.
- A competitor names their product very similarly to yours
- A competitor steals your technology and uses it in a factory to make something else
- A website publishes the articles from your blog without your permission
- A competitor uses your design without permission
Protecting your IP could prevent situations like these from happening.
Use your IP rights in the courts to ultimately defend your sole right to use, make or sell your IP assets.
Grow your business
Consider commercializing your IP to benefit from its full value ($).
Commercialization is the process of turning your IP into a source of revenue.
Selling your IP rights can be a one-time revenue source.
Think of an inventor selling the patent for their technology to a bigger company in the same field.
Licensing deals can also bring in royalties and may constitute a growing revenue source over time.
Think of a computer license you purchase.
Franchising agreements are about sharing a business model "package" that may include trademarks, patents, designs, copyrighted materials and know-how or confidential information.
Think of retail companies opening new franchises.
Expand your business abroad
Exporting your IP can offer your business great growth potential:
- Increased sales
- Take advantage of demand around the world.
- Increased competitiveness
- Be more resilient to competition both in Canada and in the international marketplace if you succeed globally.
- Economies of scale
- Take advantage of a large market base to produce on a bigger scale and make the most of your resources.
Protecting your IP abroad can also stop counterfeit goods from being produced in countries where you have IP protection.
Consider obtaining IP protection in countries where you plan on doing business, including selling products over the internet or manufacturing products overseas.
To learn more, consult these external sites:
- CIPO webpage on international IP treaties
- World Intellectual Property Organization webpage on filing for IP protection abroad
Search IP databases
Before filing for IP protection, take the time to search various IP databases, which will allow you to:
- check whether your trademark or design is similar to someone else's
- learn about current research and innovations before they enter the marketplace
- identify potential competitors
- find companies that already own IP rights in your related area(s) in order to establish partnerships
- anticipate changes in the market
Search both Canadian and international databases to ensure that you are not infringing on the rights of others.
Apply for an IP right
Click on the links to learn more about the application process for each IP right.
What is an IP strategy?
An IP strategy is a series of decisions and methods designed to maximize the contribution of IP to achieving business goals.
Developing an IP strategy can help you optimize the positive impacts of your IP assets on your business revenue, reputation and competitiveness.
There are five main steps involved in setting up an IP strategy:
Through research and product development, determine and create an inventory list of your company's existing and potential IP.
Determine the value of future economic benefits your IP will bring.
Maximize the value of your IP through commercialization and other monetization strategies.
Systematically monitor all types of IP in your portfolio.
Stop unauthorized use of your IP through legal means or alternative dispute resolution methods.
Importance of an IP strategy
A strong IP strategy can give you a competitive advantage in the marketplace:
- new or increased revenue based on a diverse IP portfolio
- higher prices charged in the marketplace based on your reputation in the marketplace as a result of your brand
- increased market shares as a result of excluding competitors
Define your IP strategy
There is no catch-all IP strategy.
Carefully think of your overall business goals and how leveraging your IP assets could help you reach these goals.
Your IP strategy could include:
Protecting technical aspects
Seek patent protection on key technical aspects of your innovation.
Focusing on brand value
Seek trademark protection in order to build value through brand recognition.
Relying on trade secrets
Rely on secrecy and do not divulge details of your innovation. Take the necessary steps to ensure secrecy and keep an eye on your competitors.
How IP professionals can help you
Understanding legislation governing IP can be complex.
IP professionals, such as patent and trademark agents, can help you navigate through all of this by:
- offering advice on the best course of action for protecting your IP assets
- helping you write your filing application
- offering strategic advice on developing effective IP strategies for businesses
- helping you avoid costly mistakes and maximize opportunities for growth
Hiring an IP professional introduces a cost you should factor in when planning to seek formal IP protection.
Hiring an IP professional
For more information on choosing and consulting an IP professional, as well as the related cost, consult CIPO's resource on hiring an IP professional.
Start with CIPO's website to learn more about IP, access a wide array of online resources and begin your IP journey!
For the business community, the IP for business page contains training and information resources on IP tailored to businesses and innovators like you!
For tools and information on how to acquire, manage and leverage your IP assets, consult the following:
- IP Toolbox: find IP roadmaps, fact sheets, videos and success stories
- Guides: check out guides for protecting your IP abroad
- IP Academy: discover eLearning modules, seminars and webinars on IP
- IP Hub: connect with services in the marketplace and find experts and funding
CIPO web presence
CIPO is active on popular social media platforms, such as Twitter, YouTube and LinkedIn.
Click on the following channels and connect with us!
Client Service Centre
Reach our Client Service Centre for any questions you may have on IP.
Call, write or visit us in person.
Government of Canada resources
Find more programs and support for Canadian businesses and innovatorsBy providing funding and expert advice and driving new collaborations, Innovation Canada's flagship programs and services are designed to help you businesses innovate, create jobs and grow Canada's economy.
IP inventory checklist
Do you have IP assets?
Now that you have a better understanding of what IP is, open the IP inventory checklist to help you determine:
- if you own IP assets
- the type(s) of IP
- how you could exploit your IP
Fill it out and save it for future reference.
Use your findings to help you take your business to the next level by leveraging your IP assets.
Thank you for completing the Discover intellectual property online module!
IP refers to intangible assets that can bring great value to your business if they are strategically aligned with your business goals. Consider the best course of action for protecting your IP assets.
To learn more about IP rights, consider taking the other online modules on patents, trademarks, copyright and industrial designs to see how they can protect your innovation and support your business growth.
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