What is Intellectual Property?

Region: Ontario Answer # 291

Intellectual property (IP) is the end product of human creativity and expression. Music, writing, paintings, computer software, inventions, industrial processes, and many other original creative endeavours can be intellectual property.

IP law recognizes that original creators in our society should have special rights. For instance, they should be compensated for use of their IP or have the authority to stop others from using or selling their invention or work. Unlike almost any other type of property, IP is:

  • Intangible
  • Often expensive to develop
  • Easily copied or distributed to an infinite number

The growing use of technologies, such as the Internet, have increased the danger that IP rights will be violated or abused. With effective protection and enforcement of these rights, however, businesses and creative individuals will have an incentive to pursue new scientific, artistic, and business endeavours.

As with any private property, IP owners and creators (not always the same) have enforceable legal rights preventing others from using or profiting from their creations without permission and allowing owners to sell, license, or transfer various IP rights.


What types of IP protection are available?

Among the most common types of protection for IP are patents, trademarks, copyrights, and industrial designs.

  • Patents cover new inventions such as processes, machines, manufacturing, composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement of an existing invention
  • Trademarks protect words, symbols, or designs, tastes, textures, moving images, modes of packaging, holograms, sounds, scents, 3-dimensional shapes, and colours (or a combination of these) that distinguish goods or services from others in the marketplace
  • Copyrights provide protection for artistic, dramatic, musical, or literary works (including computer programs)
  • Industrial designs are the visual features of shape, configuration, pattern, or ornament applied to a manufactured article

Others areas of IP law cover trade secrets, integrated circuit topography registrations and plant breeders’ rights. To fully protect your original invention, product, service, or work, you may need to know about the rights and protections associated with more than one type of IP.

For example, a newly invented machine may need a patent to protect its method of operation, an industrial design registration to cover its construction, and a trademark to stop other businesses from using its unique name in the marketplace. While the invention itself does not qualify for copyright, the machine’s operating manual probably does. Each of these rights exists for different periods and may need to be registered or granted in different countries.

What laws affect IP rights?

In Canada, IP rights are granted under the:

  • Copyright Act
  • Industrial Design Act
  • Integrated Circuit Topography Act
  • Patent Act
  • Plant Breeders’ Rights Act
  • Trademarks Act

Enforcement or use of these rights may also arise under other legislation, such as the Competition Act, the common law and Québec’s Civil Code, including rights given to trade secrets and unregistered trademarks.

Refer to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office for more information on the different types of intellectual property.



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