What is IP ?
An introduction to intellectual property
Patents, trade-marks, copyright, industrial designs and similar rights are referred to as "intellectual property". These rights are "property" in the sense that they are based on the legal right to exclude others from using the property and in that ownership of the rights can be transferred. The rights are "intellectual" in the sense that they protect intangible subjects, usually arising out of some form of human creativity.
Patents protect inventions, such as machines, devices, methods and compositions of matter. Trade-mark rights protect words, designs, numbers, two-dimensional or three-dimensional forms, sounds or colors (or a combination of two or more of these elements) used to distinguish the products or services of one trader from those of others in the marketplace. Copyright protects literary (including computer programs), artistic, musical and dramatic works. Related rights include trade secrets, industrial designs, integrated circuit topographies, plant breeders' rights, and personality rights such as the right to the image.
Each of these rights is quite different from the others. For example, the inventor of a new interlocking paving stone may be able to obtain a patent on the method of making the stone and the aspects of the structure of the stone which permit it to interlock. An industrial design registration may also be obtained covering decorative features in the shape of the stone. The name under which the stone is sold may be protected by a trade-mark registration. Finally, information which may be presented in booklets or videos describing how to install the stones may be protected by copyright.
Websites are another example of how different intellectual property rights might exist and cross each other. Starting with the domain name registration for the website, one or many trade-marks may be used (words, designs, slogans) in association with wares or services which themselves might be covered by copyright, patent or industrial design protection. There may also be copyright protection in the text, database or artistic work appearing on the website or even in a song or music played while consulting the website. Each of these forms of intellectual property gives a right to different but possibly related protection.
COCA-COLA is an example of a trade-mark for a soft drink. The formulation of the drink itself is a trade secret and not covered by a patent. As such, there is protection only so long as the formulation remains secret. The shape of the bottle was once protected as an industrial design. Patents may have been obtained in respect of bottling equipment. While alternative products are available under other trade-marks, such as PEPSI, competing products generally become established only after expenditure of considerable time and effort in marketing. In this example, the trade-mark rights may be the most valuable intellectual property right.
Trade-mark protection can be maintained indefinitely. Patent, copyright and industrial design protection are limited in time.
Patent agents and trade-mark agents are professionals who are registered to practice before the Patent Office and the Trade-marks Office. Respectively, Patent agents and trade-mark agents may not be lawyers although many are. Registered patent agents typically have expertise in one or more scientific disciplines and are experienced in analyzing inventions and in writing patent specifications and claims. Registered trade-mark agents and lawyers practising in the intellectual property field typically have expertise and are experienced in legal aspects of use of trade-marks and trade names, registration of trade-marks and maintenance and protection thereof.
The Intellectual Property Institute of Canada (IPIC) maintains lists of competent professionals who are trained and experienced in intellectual property law. Efforts made in advance of meeting with such a professional to understand the nature and scope of intellectual property rights can be useful in understanding the advice given and in making sound business decisions about such rights.
© 2013 Intellectual Property Institute of Canada, Ottawa,