The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) defines intellectual property (IP) as creations of the mind: inventions, literary and artistic works, and symbols, names, images, and designs used in commerce.
In other words, the identifying elements that clients and customers associate with your business and use to help drive sales and success. These elements – be they industrial or artistic or anything in between – are highly valuable, and may become the target of appropriation or theft for unscrupulous individuals looking to profit from the goodwill and recognition that your small business has built over time.
Select and consistently use your chosen brand together with its identifying symbol. This will give notice to others that the term is in use as a trademark, and over time common-law trademark rights will accrue.
The difference between registered and common-law trademark rights is that registered rights are deemed valid and enforceable across Canada, while common-law rights need to be proven and can only be enforced in an area where they are known. For example, if you do business only in Toronto, then you will not be able to enforce those rights in Vancouver.
Timing is also critical to a solid IP protection strategy: if you apply too soon, you may waste the cost of application fees for a patent if the idea cannot be proven sufficiently distinctive. Too late, and a competitor might beat your patent to the punch.
The ownership of all intellectual property should be clearly documented in writing with both employees and independent contractors. One item worth spending money on is clarifying the ownership of the intellectual property that your company creates.
Should your IP be violated the first course of action should be to consult a legal advisor or IP agent for advice. They will conduct a thorough investigation to determine whether infringement has taken place, that your IP paperwork is in order, and consider your probabilities of success should you take legal action.