Intellectual property (IP) refers to certain rights that can be owned in certain types of creations and creative works. IP rights cover a broad range of subject matter, including artistic designs, business names, inventions, and written expressions. Generally speaking, the owners of IP rights may be exclusively entitled to usem, make, import, distribute, share, or modify the creations in which they own IP rights.
IP rights are protected by laws enacted so that creators can benefit when they choose to share their creations with the public. Laws protecting IP incentivize the creation of new, original, and useful works/inventions, which will benefit society as well as their creators. In general, IP rights allow creators to authorize the use of and benefit from their creations for a certain timeframe, after which the general public may use a creation without restrictions from the owner of the IP. However, IP rights in a creation are not always be owned by the creator (for example, if the creator has sold their IP rights to someone else or created their work in the course of their employment).
It is also important to keep in mind that each country has its own IP laws, and so the IP rights that a creator may own can vary in each country. In order to understand what IP rights may apply, please keep in mind which country’s (or countries’) laws may apply. The ALAS Legal Database provides summary information about the laws of the province of Ontario in Canada, and may not include all of the information you require.
Below are a few of the different types of IP rights available to different types of creators. For more information, please see more detailed articles on each type of IP in the ALAS Legal Database:
Certain types of creative expressions (known as ‘works’) may be eligible for copyright protection. The owners of copyright in a work are exclusively entitled to use that work (such as to publish, modify, or distribute the work), and it may be an infringement of copyright for someone else to use the work without permission. Copyright protection generally lasts for the lifetime of the author, and then for a further period that varies by country (in Canada, 50 years from the end of the year of the author’s death).
The providers of goods and services (such as companies or retailers) may use certain indicators to distinguish their goods or services from those of other businesses. These source indicators are known as trademarks, and can come in a variety of forms such as business names, logos, slogans, or packaging. If two businesses or proprietors offer the same types of goods and/or services using confusingly similar trademarks then this could be an infringement and/or passing-off (i.e. one business pretending to be another to fool customers).
IP law can be used to protect certain types of non-utilitarian visual designs, such as plans for three-dimensional objects or functional two-dimensional graphics (e.g. an app user-interface). This area of law generally only protects the non-useful, ornamental elements of designs, and not their intended function. For example, it could be possible to protect a distinctive and visually appealing chair, but not the concept of a chair. INdustrial design protection can help people creating goods to protect the unique visual elements that make their goods aesthetically appealing.
Inventors can sometimes protect their concepts for new and unique ways of doing things (i.e. an invention). This protection allows them to prohibit others from using the invention for a certain period of time, giving the inventor an opportunity to profit from their idea. The requirements for an idea to be patentable vary from country to country, but generally the invention must be novel and not obvious, as well as useful.
IP rights generally do not protect information per se, and so trade secrets refers to a protection strategy for information that is important to a business (such as concepts, ideas, formulas, recipes). Because IP rights do not prevent others from using the information, the business that owns it must keep the information secret. This is often accomplished by only sharing the information with select individuals, and entering into non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) with those individuals to ensure that they keep the information to themselves.