What is Intellectual Property
Intellectual Property (IP) is an umbrella term referring to the intangible assets that are creations of human intellect and creative pursuits. The term includes inventions, symbols, logos, pictures, designs, literary and artistic works, and more.
It is possible to have some types of IP protected to legally preserve rights of ownership, use and value. These IP rights are made effective by the laws governing the use, ownership and enforcement of IP in a specific country. Formal IP rights are associated with patents, trademarks, copyright, etc., which will be discussed in more detail below. All IP rights are ‘negative rights’ meaning that the owner of the IP rights has the legal power to stop others from using the owner’s IP within a specific territory, limited within a country in which the laws apply. It is the responsibility of the owner of the IP rights to take positive action to stop others from infringing on their IP rights. There is no IP policing agent in any government administration – once granted the IP rights, it is the owner’s job to police the territory. In short it gives the owner the right to take an infringing party to court and stop them through litigation.
Within Canada the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) is responsible for administering, processing, examining, and granting most types of IP rights. Connect with your Technology Transfer Office or seek independent legal counsel if you have particular questions on IP and how to use your IP rights to protect your creative works.
For a quick overview, watch this video from CIPO introducing different types of IP.
The Importance of Intellectual Property Rights
Various types of IP rights exist under the protections of IP law which legally preserve the rights and use of the IP by the creators and owners. The rights commonly thought of when discussing IP law include patents, trademarks, copyright, and industrial design. Trade secrets are also a form of IP rights; this right relies on the protection of confidential information by a limited group of people, and in Canada is not protected under legal statute or through a formal registration process.
It is crucial to protect IP assets for several reasons. IP rights define ownership over the IP asset to recognize the efforts of the creator(s), and they are used to prevent others from copying, using, selling, leasing, manufacturing your IP, or taking credit for your innovative ideas and inventions. Even if another party is able to independently recreate the same IP asset without malice, the owner of the IP rights has the power to stop them from using it. If the IP is of interest to industry for commercial use, there can be significant commercial value in owning or controlling the IP rights.
Industry and businesses can have great interest in acquiring IP rights that may allow them to gain a competitive edge over others in the market. As such, IP rights can reap many financial benefits for owners, creators, and other stakeholders, if they are actively used to protect an attractive commercial product. In short, IP rights, when used well, slow down or stop competing businesses from producing, selling, importing, exploiting, or using products or services which incorporate unique IP assets. If an owner decides to register their IP assets with the intellectual property office within a country, then fees will apply. Generally, government registration fees are most expensive for patents, trademarks would be the next most expensive IP right fee followed by industrial design, and copyrights are often the cheapest fee types. In Canada, trade secrets, which are by far the most common form of IP asset, are not registered with any agency and therefore have no official registration fees.