Protect what you’ve made—a crash course in business intellectual property

June 25, 2019 ATB Financial

Close up of a person working on a laptop with contracts in hand and a cup of coffee on the table.

Copyright. Trademark. Patent. When you’re starting your business—or even well into it—knowing what kind of intellectual property your business has and what you can do to protect it can cause major overwhelm. So when Marnie Fyten—Intellectual Property Advisor from the Canadian Intellectual Property Office(CIPO)—hosted a workshop at the Edmonton ATB Entrepreneur Centre, we couldn’t wait to hear what she had to say.

Marnie made the daunting, often-times confusing world of intellectual property much more manageable. And we wanted to give those of you who couldn’t make it, that clarity too!

Here’s a breakdown on common the five main types of intellectual property—IP for short—and what they’re used for.

1. Copyright

What it does:

Protects original creative work of all kinds. That means you have exclusive rights to reproduce the work, as well as perform, publish or translate it.

How to get it:

You already have it! As soon you create the work, you have the copyrights, and you should identify your original works by using ©, owner, year. Marnie let us know that you can get an official certificate of ownership online for only $50, which could save you some legal headaches in the future.

What it can apply to:

Advertising or marketing materials such as:

  • Art
  • Books
  • Blog posts
  • Illustrations
  • Lyrics
  • Magazines
  • Newsletters
  • Manuals
  • Mobile apps​
  • Musical scores
  • Photos
  • Plays
  • Software
  • Training materials
  • Website

2. Patent

What it does:

Protects new and useful inventions that aren’t obvious. A patent gives you the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling your invention in Canada for up to 20 years.

How to get it:

It’s important not to share any information about your invention before you apply for a patent. Submit an application sooner than later because in Canada, patents are granted on a first to file basis.

Learn more about patents, or find a registered patent agent.

What it can apply to:

  • Products
  • Processes
  • Machines
  • Chemical compositions
  • Improvements to any of those

3. Trademark

What it does:

Protects words, signs, symbols, designs, and sounds, that differentiate your products and services from others.

How to get it:

You can use an unregistered trademark, which gives you some rights in common law. If brand recognition is important to your business, you should apply to register your trademark. This will give you exclusive rights to use it in association with your goods and services in Canada. Ideally, you should register your trademark before you register a business name, or internet domain name. Learn more about trademarks or find a registered trademark agent.

What it can apply to:

  • Brand name
  • Business name
  • Logo
  • Packaging
  • Product name
  • Service name
  • Sounds or Jingles
  • Slogan
  • Symbol

4. Trade secret

What it is:

Your confidential, valuable business information (think something along the lines of grandma’s super-secret cookie recipe). Your competitive advantage is only safe as long as it’s kept secret.

How to get it:

​​There are no registration or formal rights. It all rests in you keeping the secret. You can do this by restricting access to key employees and business partners who have a need to know, and using non-disclosure agreements and confidentiality clauses. You can also make sure no one has the full picture of critical knowledge, use digital encryption and passwords, and old-school lock and key to keep your secret safe.

What it can apply to:

  • Algorithms
  • Customer and supplier lists or data
  • Secret formula
  • Secret recipe
  • Secret process, method or technique

5. Industrial design

What it does:

Protects the original visual features of the shape, configuration, pattern, or ornamentation of a finished object. It’s all about aesthetic, not functionality. Registering an industrial design gives you the exclusive right to make, import, sell or rent any product for which the design is applied for up to 15 years in Canada.

How to get it:

Register online (nice and simple).

What it can apply to:

  • Packaging
  • Graphical user interface (GUI) of a website, software, or mobile app
  • Shape of a product

That just scratches the surface of all you can know—and should know—about protecting and commercializing your intellectual property. Find more tools and helpful resources for your business through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office website.




We’re sad you missed this event—but you don’t have to miss the next one! Our Entrepreneur Centres across the province are always hosting helpful workshops for entrepreneurs just like you—for free! Find out what events are happening in your area, or drop in to meet with one of our small business experts.
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