Avoiding costly mistakes with intellectual property

This article identifies the types of intellectual property and discusses how to retain crucial legal protections for it.

One of the things that contributes to the success of an Ontario business is its uniqueness. The factor that gives a company its edge often comes from some form of intellectual property. For this reason, businesses should strive to do what they can to protect these types of assets.

Before intellectual property can receive the appropriate protection, business owners need to recognize what they have that fits into this definition. It could prove invaluable to make this distinction as early as possible in order to avoid making a costly mistake.

Types of intellectual property

A company with any of the following may want to seriously consider taking steps to protect it as soon as possible:

· If a company uses a unique combination of sounds, words, designs, letters or something non-traditional but unique to the company, it constitutes a trademark that distinguishes it from others in the same industry.

· The original features of a product, such as the shape, pattern, ornament and/or configuration constitute an industrial design. Registering the design prohibits others from copying or selling it.

· If an individual or business owner has literary works, artistic or musical works, sound recording, performances, or dramatic works, he or she may want to copyright them in order to receive the maximum protection possible under Canadian law.

· If a business has a new or useful invention or makes new and useful improvements to an existing invention, a patent would provide protection for a limited time and prohibit others here in Canada from selling or using the invention.

Perhaps a company has a process or formula that offers an advantage over other, similar businesses and provides commercial value to it. Such trade secrets do not benefit from registration. Instead, they derive their protection from remaining secret. If the secret comes out, it loses any protections. A business can protect trade secrets through encryptions, locks and keys, and confidentiality agreements.

Steps business owners can take for protection

Once a company realises it has a valuable piece of intellectual property, it may want to work quickly and efficiently in the following manners to avoid losing legal protections:

· Registering a trademark in other countries could avoid losing a potential market due to another company using something substantially similar or the exact same thing.

· A company may want to consider applying for a patent or industrial design, as applicable, in other countries as well.

· A company that uses social media or some other medium as an advertising vehicle only has 12 months to apply for a patent after sharing a new invention publicly either online or in some other way.

· A company should typically take as many security measures as possible to keep a trade secret from getting out.

· A patent has a shelf life of 20 years, so a company needs to make sure to reapply within a reasonable amount of time if it wants to retain a particular patent.

· An industry design expires 15 years after the filing of an application or 10 years after registration, whichever date is later. It, too, will require reapplication before the applicable expiration date.

Keeping a competitive edge in today's business world requires taking advantage of as many legal protections as possible for intellectual property. Business owners who need more information regarding how to protect this type of property could substantially benefit from sitting down with a lawyer experienced in this area of law.