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Business Beat: Intellectual Property Options for Protecting your Ideas in Growing your Business

Yesterday, local innovators, entrepreneurs, students, and startups were treated to a free seminar on intellectual property protection. The event was sponsored by APEX at the Medicine Hat College. The two-day program featured a main presentation as well as individual meetings during which individuals were given the opportunity to meet one-on-one with intellectual property lawyers and patent agents.

The featured guest and mainstage presenters were Dan Polonenko, PhD and Jeff Coles. Dr. Polonenko is a principal and patent agent in the Calgary office of Gowling WLG. Mr. Coles, also with Gowling WLG, is a lawyer, trademark agent and patent agent.

The speakers described several options available to protect new ideas and improvements as businesses go through the processes of scaling and incorporating these innovations into commercial products and services.

In addition to filing one or more patent applications, it was emphasized that companies should consider “branding” ideas and improvements with a name and/or logo/slogan that is easy to remember and will become quickly associated with commercial activities.

Branding can be accomplished in two ways. The first is by filing one or more trademark applications and the second is by filing copyright registrations to protect brand names, designs, and slogans. For example, trademark applications can be filed to protect the name given to a product or service (i.e., a “word mark”). Trademark applications can also be filed to protect a logo or slogan that has a unique design element and/or colour combinations (i.e., a “design mark”).

Although anyone can file a trademark application by following the instructions on the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) website, it is usually more cost-effective and timely to have a registered trademark agent handle the application preparation, filing, prosecution, and registration processes.

If you intend to protect a “word mark” or “design mark,” a superscripted “TM” should be inserted at the immediate right end of the mark. The “TM” will make it clear to the marketplace that the mark is being used as an unregistered trademark. After CIPO has allowed an application for a trademark for the mark, a superscripted ¨ symbol may then be placed next to the mark to signify that it has been approved and registered by CIPO.

Copyright registrations protect visual and written works. Both can be used to protect the content and design of logos and slogans. The process of filing a copyright registration through the CIPO website is simple, inexpensive ($50 for each copyright application), and easy for anyone to do. Note that the developer of a word mark, slogan or logo is legally entitled to place the superscripted © symbol immediately to the right end of the word mark, slogan or logo.

Securing the allowance of a patent application and its subsequent grant as a legally enforceable patent was once a long, drawn-out process. It typically took between three to five years to navigate. However, recent changes in the procedural rules and available options have made it possible to accelerate and fast-track the examination of a patent application. In several cases, during the past two years, the patent agents at Gowling WLG have been able to secure patent allowances within 5-9 months of filing the application with CIPO. The process requires concurrently filing (i) a Request for Examination of the application, (ii) a Request for Accelerated Examination under Patent Rule 28, and (iii) a Request for publication of the application. CIPO will typically issue their first office action within 2-4 months of receiving the application and requests. It should be noted that the costs for fast-tracking an application will be about the same as the previous process, but the costs will be compressed from a 3-5-year period to a 3-9-month period. The fast-tracking process is particularly useful if you are concerned that a competitor may try to scoop your invention, and you want to be in a position to promptly enforce your rights.

In summary, a good strategy to protect your ideas and improvements is to combine branding through trademarking and copyright registration, in addition to patent protection.

If you would like more information on these strategies and processes, contact the Gowling WLG office at (403) 298-1000.

APEX Alberta will host another free business training program on Feb. 27, 2019 in Medicine Hat. This session is entitled, “What you need to know about employment law for 2019.” For registration information, please visit the following link:

Community Futures Entre-Corp has been supporting small business since 1988. We provide the tools and guidance you need to run your business. For more information about our programs and how we can connect you with helpful resources, please call Community Futures at 403-528-2824.

Elizabeth Blair is the regional innovation network coordinator for APEX Alberta. APEX Alberta has programs to help support the growth of innovative and technologically-oriented businesses in Southeast Alberta. APEX Alberta is a collaborative initiative between three core service providers: Community Futures Entre-Corp, Medicine Hat College and Alberta Innovates.

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