Intellectual Property (IP) refers to creations of the mind, such as inventions; literary and artistic works; designs; and symbols, names and images used in commerce.

IP is protected in law by, for example, patents, copyright, industrial designs and trademarks.

A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention.  The patent provides the patent owner with the right to exclude others from making, using or selling his/her invention.  In essence, it provides the patent owner with the right to decide how – or whether – the invention can be used by others for the period in which the invention is protected.  In exchange for this right, the patent owner must provide an enabling disclosure such that skilled workers may practice the invention.  There are four basic criteria for patentability: novelty, inventiveness, utility, and statutory – the subject matter must be patent eligible.  In Canada, a patent lasts for 20 years from the filing date, provided all required maintenance fees continue to be paid.  The rights given by a Canadian patent extend throughout Canada, but not to other countries.

A trademark is a sign capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one enterprise from those of other enterprises.  A trademark in Canada may be a name, logo, slogan, or design.  In Canada, a trademark can be registered or unregistered.  A registered trademark is one that has been formally entered onto the official register of trademarks.  Registration of trademarks is a key step in protecting and building value for a brand.  The registration improves the rights of the owner of the trademark, creates an identifiable asset, and provides some protection against claims of infringement or misuse by others.  A registration expires 10 years from the registration date but can be renewed for successive terms for as long as the trademark is in use in Canada.

A copyright is a legal term used to describe the rights that creators have over their literary and artistic works.  Works covered by copyright include books, music, paintings, sculpture and films, computer programs, databases, advertisements, maps and technical drawings.  In general. copyright means the sole right to produce or reproduce a work or a substantial part of it in any form.  A certificate of registration of copyright is evidence that copyright exists and that the person registered is the owner of the copyright.  Generally, copyright lasts for the life of the author, the remainder of the calendar year in which the author dies, and for 50 years following the end of that calendar year.  Therefore, protection will expire on December 31 of the 50th year after the author dies. 

An industrial design constitutes the ornamental or aesthetic aspect of an article.  Industrial design protection is focussed on protecting the visual features of an article, namely its design, shape, pattern or ornament or any combination of these features applied to a finished article.  A design may consist of three-dimensional features, such as the shape and surface of an article, or of two-dimensional features, such as patterns, lines or color.  A registered industrial design provides the owner with an exclusive right to prevent others from making, selling and importing for commercial purposes an article that embodies a design which is the same, or substantially similar to the registered design.  The term for the exclusive right granted by the registration of a design begins on the date of registration and ends on the later of the end of 10 years after registration and 15 years from the Canadian filing date (i.e., the maximum term of exclusive right of a design is 15 years).

Finally, other forms of Intellectual Property include Integrated Circuit Topographies and Plant Breeders’ Rights.  Integrated circuit topographies are the three-dimensional configurations of electronic circuits embodied in integrated circuits or layout designs.  Plant breeders’ rights provide for the protection of new varieties of plants similar to the way an invention can be protected by a patent.  A Plant Breeders’ Rights certificate is valid for up to 25 years (in the case of a tree or vine) and 20 years (in any other case) from the certificate’s issue date.