"Intellectual property", known as patents, trade marks, copyrights, industrial designs and trade secrets, is a cornerstone of business.  Like other valuable business assets, this "property" must be protected.  Where would Coca Cola Company be if everyone had free access to its "Coke" trade mark?

What are the differences between the various categories of Intellectual property?  To illustrate, consider how a new and improved garden tool might be protected from exploitation by competitors.  

PATENTS protect an "invention" which is defined as "any new and useful art, process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter", or any new and useful improvement to these items.  In the case of the garden tool, a patent might protect the structure of the tool, how it works or the method of assembling it.

More patent information.  (here)

TRADE MARKS are used to distinguish one trader's wares (i.e. goods) or services from another's.  They should not simply describe the character or quality of the wares or services.  In the case of the garden tool, the trade mark is the name or logo/design under which the tool is known or marketed.  A good example in the distinctive "Kodak" trade mark for photographic products.

More trade mark information.  (here)

INDUSTRIAL DESIGNS in Canada (called a "design patent" in the US) protect an object's shape, pattern or ornamentation which appeals to and is judged solely by the eye.  For example, the garden tool may have a distinctive shape or appealing ornamental (i.e. nonfunctional) aspect which can be protected by an industrial design.  The industrial design would not stop others from making a garden tool different in appearance but identical in function.

Refer to the Guide to Industrial Designs from CIPO (Canadian Intellectual Property Office) for more information.

COPYRIGHT protects how an idea is expressed, and not the idea itself.  Copyright subsists in every original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic work.  A "literary work" includes, for example, books, blue prints and computer programs, and an "artistic work" includes paintings, drawings, photographs and the like.   Taking the garden tool example, copyright may exist in any labels affixed to the tool or in instruction manuals, but won't protect how the tool functions.

More copyright information.  (here)

TRADE SECRETS, also known as "confidential information", may consist of an unpatented but secret formula, device or industrial process known only to a few employees.  Unlike patents, a trade secret need not have any novelty, although it must not be allowed to become public property or public knowledge.  Merely stating that something is a trade secret or is confidential does not make it so unless it is.  Anyone who uncovers a trade secret by examining a product on sale, or in any other proper manner, has the right to use it.  There are obviously no registration requirements for trade secrets.

This web site is intended to provide general information about intellectual property and should not be considered as advice on the specifics of your case.  Each situation is different, and so to discuss your particular circumstances, please get in touch with me. 

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Copyright  Patents Canada 1999,2000,2001, 2002, 2003,2004,2005,
PATENTS CANADA is a Trade-Mark of Thomas E. Malyszko

* In association with Field LLP, Alberta, Canada 
Last updated:August, 2010