Understanding Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents

Understanding Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents

Written by Corrina Murdoch
Fact-checked by Caitlin Wood
Last Updated August 6, 2020

Understanding the full scope of your business’ assets is critical to both big-picture and day-to-day operations. Intellectual property is a major component of a business. By properly distinguishing between trademarks, copyrights, and patents, you gain a more thorough picture of your company. While the terms are often used interchangeably, there are distinct differences between the three classifications. Ensuring the continuous possession of your intellectual property over time relies upon you properly defining and protecting your assets. This piece breaks down specific details regarding each of these terms so you can use the information to facilitate business success.

Why are Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents Important?

Regardless of your industry, intellectual property (IP) is a part of your operations. The classification of IP fosters business success over the long term. Not only does it foster innovation, but it also ensures that your ideas, and those of your employees, belong to the company. By gaining a thorough understanding of IP, you can keep your business’ interests safe. As a proprietor or executive, IP helps you:

Protect Your Business

Intellectual property refers, essentially, to ideas. Since ingenuity sets businesses apart from one another, protecting your IP is essential to your business security. From proprietary research to names associated with daily operations, intellectual property gives you the rights to the ideas, creations, and innovations created by your company. However, while certain types of IP are associated to a business automatically, others require declaration via filing. 

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Understand The Types of Intangible Assets

Though intellectual property all shares a root of ingenuity, there are different types. Each must be handled differently to ensure continuity and exclusivity. 

  • Slogans. Otherwise known as a catchphrase, this is when a spoken or written line becomes a distinct way for you to set your business apart. 
  • Trademarks. A patterned cumulation of images, words, or phrases, a trademark is an important type of intellectual property. 
  • Copyrights. Protection for your business’ artistic or creative work, enforceable under Canadian law. 
  • Patents: The value, whether by sale or licensing, of a unique invention or creation. 
  • Brand value. The value related to the work completed in terms of brand awareness and overall marketing. While not intellectual property, the act of solidifying your brand is 
    • Customer appreciation
    • Market share
    • Rights and responsibilities

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What Is The Difference Between Trademarks, Copyrights, and Patents?


What is it?

A trademark is a series of images, words, of sounds/phrases which you use to distinguish your business in the market. It can apply directly to the name of your company, to a slogan, or design-related assets such as logos. 

  • Protecting your brand name and imagery
  • Prevents competitors from using your assets
  • Ensures continuity of your positioning strategy
  • Facilitates market success and share security


What is it?
  • Copyrights are the registered existence of the exclusive legal rights of your company to any creative or artistic projects. It spans various types of work including music, literature, and image-related art. Just as the name suggests, it refers to the rights relating to recreating (or copying) said work. So long as the product meets the requirements of the Copyright Act, you can access a copyright.
  • Original work receives automatic copyright
  • Registration helps prevent disputes relating to similar products
  • Filing offers tangible proof of copyright ownership

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What is it?
  • Patents are the status granted by the government which gives the exclusive Canadian rights to an invention or creation. With a patent, the rights pass to the heirs of the patent owner upon their death. Applying to inventions that set themselves apart in mechanism or utility, patents are relevant to machines, new processes, and innovative products. There are three necessary criteria which you must meet, including:
    • Novelty: The originating nature of your specific invention.
    • Inventiveness: The creation must either improve upon or be a new piece of technology that would not happen organically. 
    • Utility: This stipulates that the patented design must actually be useful.

To acquire a patent, there is a public inspection process to ensure the originality and legitimacy of the creation. It lets you prevent others from using or generating your proprietary creation. Bear in mind that a Canadian patent and international patent are different, and must be sought separately.

  • Prevents competitors from using or making your patented property
  • Protects your proprietary creations
  • Helps keep a stronghold on your market share
  • Lets you profit through licensing or sale of patented materials

How Long Is Your Intellectual Property Protect For? 

  • Trademarks: Upon registration with the government of Canada, trademarks grant you exclusive rights for a period of ten years. You can renew the trademark’s status after that decade. Provided you do not let the trademark lapse, you can retain the status perpetually.   
  • Copyrights: Copyrights last for 50 years longer than the lifespan of the creator. Once this time lapses, upon December 31st of the final year, the work becomes part of the public domain. There are few exceptions, related mostly to joint authorship, posthumous creations, and clerical errors. These matters are set forth in the Copyright Act.
  • Patents: Patents are effective for as long as 20 years subsequent to the date of filing. Once the term expires, you cannot renew the patent. After this time, the subject matter of the patent falls into the public domain. 

How Do You Protect Your Intellectual Property? 

The first step to protecting your IP is actually identifying what assets you possess. From there, you can determine which legal mechanism you can employ to secure your rights. In order to gain the full value of IP protection, you must properly classify your assets and seek the proper protection. The above serves as a reference guide to help you understand which legal classifications suit your assets. Once you know what type of IP you have, the next step is to pursue exclusivity under Canadian law. 

Submitting an Application


You can use either a professional service or apply directly to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. Simply search for existing trademarks using the online tool. The search process is free and enables you to assess whether you have a unique concept on which to place a trademark. You can search by keyword and learn whether the trademark is actively registered, expunged, formalized, or abandoned. From there, assuming the title is available, you submit your application while ensuring you adhere to the formalities. It undergoes an examination period then goes into publication. Provided the opposition phase goes uncontested, you then receive registration. Fees are required to complete this process. While there are professional trademark agents, the official website guides you through this relatively inexpensive process. 


As with the above, you can outsource the project to a firm. Alternatively, you can file through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office. Though most individual published work receives automatic copyright, having the proof onhand is helpful. Create an account, go through the electronic filing process, and pay the associated fees. This provides you with the necessary documentation to support your possession of the copyrighted materials. This way, should any other creator seek to infringe on that right by using your creation, you can quickly quash the issue.


The most complicated of the three processes, most opt to use a professional service. The government website has a step-by-step guide to facilitate ease during the procedure. The first step is searching against existing patents. This ensures that, before you invest in the process, there is no existing patent. From there, you seek a filing date. To obtain this date, you need to prove that you are seeking a patent, prove your identity, supply contact information, and provide a description of the potentially patentable creation. All the documents are subject to technical specifications; so, before proceeding, ensure that all of your documents are up to spec. Assuming you are set to move forward, you then pay the fee and file. There is a review process and a significant waiting period. However, provided your product meets the necessary criteria, the patent will be granted eventually.

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Final Thoughts

Intellectual property is a major business asset. Taking the proper steps to secure your rights to your company’s proprietary creations is essential to preserving your market share. Bear in mind that, while some approaches like trademarks and copyrights are fairly price-effective, other steps like patenting can be more costly. Ensure that you have the liquid funds to properly pursue the protection of your intellectual property. Running a cost analysis on the value of the patent, copyright, or trademark, against the potential risk is essential. In most cases, there is a cost-efficient method of protecting your IP in both the short and long term. By identifying your assets and taking steps to secure them, you are taking a responsible step towards helping your business thrive. 

Rating of 5/5 based on 5 votes.

Corrina Murdoch has been a dedicated freelance writer and editor for several years. With an academic background in the sciences and a penchant for mathematics, she seeks to provide readers with accurate, reliable information on important topics. Working as a print journalist for several years, Corrina expanded her reach into the digital sphere to help more people gain insight into the realm of finances. When she's not writing, you can find Corrina swimming and spending time with family.

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