Intellectual property for small businesses in Canada

intellectual property canada

How can you protect your small business’ intellectual property in Canada?

Let’s discuss the main ways you can protect your IP. These are: patents, copyright, trademarks, industrial design patents, integrated circuit topographies, and trade secrets.


Patents are needed for new gadgets, processes, apparatuses, products, or compositions of matter that haven’t had any previous exposure to the world. To patent an invention, it has to be the first of its kind in the world, be useful and not obvious to someone familiar with that area of expertise.

You can’t patent for an idea, an abstract theorem, a method of doing business, a medical treatment or a computer program.

A patent gives you the exclusive right to produce, manufacture, use and sell the product. However, you’ll also have to disclose all information about the design to the world. You can also patent an improvement or a refinement to a product, but you’ll have to disclose design information here too.


Copyright covers any creative work of expression (literary books/leaflets/periodicals, lectures/sermons, artistic, musical, dramatic, databases, computer programs or sound/video recording), and lasts the lifetime of the artist plus 50 years. This gives you the right to control and the right to be paid royalties.


A trademark protects an identifying mark for 15 years once registered with Strategis Canada. However, the trademark can be renewed after the 15 year period. A trademark can be obtained for anything used to distinguish you from a competitor, like a word, phrase, logo, picture, shape, design, certification mark, or even the shape of words. With this protection, nothing confusingly similar can be used legally. However, depending on your success, it may be possible to lose your trademark name. For example, Zipper, Kleenex, Band-Aid and Xerox aren’t trade names anymore because they’ve become generic household names.

Industrial design

Industrial design can cover unique ideas, features, patterns, configurations, shapes, or ornaments of an object and is protected for 10 years. The design is usually an article made by tools, machines or hand. For example, the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle or of a snowboard are both industrial designs.

Integrated circuit topographies

Integrated circuit topographies (computer chips, microchips or semiconductor chips) are protected for 10 years. You can protect against reproduction, manufacturing, importation or exploitation of an integrated circuit.

Trade secret

A trade secret is a piece of knowledge that isn’t published and is kept confidential. Some examples of trade secrets are the formula for Silly Putty, a company’s customer lists and the recipe for Kentucky Fried Chicken. Non-disclosure agreements or non-compete contracts are signed to keep these secrets a secret, and anyone could be sued for all potential damages if they have loose lips. Trade secrets never expire.

Any of these intellectual properties can be licensed instead of registered by you. In this case, you may not have enough money to register the property and you may give the right to another person or company to manufacture or sell your invention in exchange for royalties. In fact, this is done quite often. Some people also share their patents and discoveries with others to further research and design activities.

Visit the Canadian Intellectual Property Office’s website for more info on intellectual property in Canada.

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