Skip to main content

Sheema Khan is VP, Intellectual Property Strategy at Stratford Managers in Ottawa.

So what exactly is “IP” and why is it so important?

Perhaps the operative word in IP is “property” – a tangible asset that implies ownership, rights, value and commercialization. The “intellectual” part simply implies that the property is not land-based or bricks-and-mortar, but rather, springs from creative ideas.

Story continues below advertisement

Sheema Khan

More importantly, IP is useless unless it is properly registered with the relevant granting authority, thereby legally establishing you as the rightful owner of your IP. If your idea has high commercial value, others will try to copy it and cash in on your hard work. As a registered IP owner, you have legal rights to prevent others from claiming your IP as their own. However, without proper registration of your IP, you leave yourself open to financial loss and encroachment.

Sometimes, there may be no need to register your IP. For example, if your idea has little commercial value/potential, it may not be worth it to spend the legal fees to secure IP rights. Another example is when the idea has huge commercial value but is impossible to copy or reverse-engineer. In this case, details of the valuable idea are kept under wraps through legal contracts with employees. A final example is that of the altruist, who wishes to freely share her idea with the world.

Read More: Natalie Giroux on why companies need intellectual property strategies.

As with property development and management, you can further develop (or “scale”) your initial IP through commercialization, expansion, licensing (akin to leasing), and/or sale. In addition, there are different ways (or “tools”) to protect your IP. Depending on the nature, size and stage of your business, your IP portfolio will include a diversity of such tools that evolve over time. A few are discussed below:

  • A copyright is the exclusive, legal right to produce, reproduce, sell, license, publish or perform an original work (or a substantial part thereof). Anyone who wishes to use or copy the work must ask permission and/or pay the copyright holder. Works can be literal (e.g. books, web pages and software code), artistic, dramatic, musical, sound recordings, communication signals and performances. Copyright protection automatically begins upon creation of the original work.
  • A trademark serves to distinguish your product or service from the competition. It is a valuable business asset since it defines your brand. It can include a word, a number, packaging, sound, a design or any combination thereof. Once registered, you have the exclusive right to your trademark by preventing others from copying it. For example, Starbucks sued a Bangkok street coffee vendor that operated under the name Starbung, complete with a modified Starbucks logo.
  • The industrial design right protects the visual features of a finished product. It can be an ornament, a pattern, a shape or any combination of those. For example, there are about 50 different registered designs related to blades and shafts of hockey sticks. Icons on your smartphone are another example of an industrial design.
  •  A trade secret derives its value from secrecy. Examples include hidden recipes, ingredients and formulas; algorithms secured in the cloud; and customer lists and data. Care must be taken to make sure the details are not disclosed to the public. Unlike other forms of IP, trade secrets are not registered.
  • A patent provides you with the exclusive right to prevent others from making, selling or using your invention for a limited period of time. In exchange for this limited monopoly, you must teach the public how to make your invention, thereby contributing to the overall public pool of knowledge (contrary to a trade secret). A patent is granted for a new process, machine, product, composition of matter, or an improvement thereof. The invention must be new, useful and inventive. Pending and granted patents are quite valuable for obtaining financing, providing a revenue stream through licensing and being sold as part of a larger deal.

For example, if you devise a new type of fibreglass composition for hockey sticks, that provides surprising flex features, you may obtain a patent for a product (the hockey stick), composition (the fibreglass), machine (which produces the sticks) and process (of producing the sticks). You may even get an industrial design for a new shape for the stick. You can even trademark the stick logo and the business name. Finally, you can copyright the webpage for your business.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter