Businesses that manage their IP are:

What is intellectual property and why it matters

Intellectual property (IP) refers to creations of the mind. It can include things like:

  • inventions, for example products and processes
  • the original visual features of a product
  • literary, artistic, dramatic and musical creations
  • words, sounds or designs used to distinguish your goods or services
  • names and images used in commerce

Managing your IP can help youfootnote 4:

  • profit from selling or licensing your IP assets
  • protect your trade secrets from being disclosed
  • stop others from making, using, and selling your invention
  • protect and build your brand
  • increase the value of your business in the eyes of potential buyers and investors

If you want to use your creation to build a business or generate income, it’s important to know how to protect and manage your intellectual property assets.

Intellectual Property Action Plan

Read the government’s Intellectual Property Action Plan in response to the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Intellectual Property.

Types of intellectual property protection

There are several types of intellectual property rights that may apply to your business and what you create or invent such as footnote 5 :


A patent applies to any new and useful invention or any new and useful improvement to an existing invention. Patents provide a time-limited, legally protected, exclusive right to prevent others from making, using and selling your invention in Canada.

Industrial design

Industrial design refers to the original visual features of a product, such as shape, configuration, pattern and/or ornament. Registering your industrial design provides a time-limited, legally protected, exclusive right to prevent others from making or selling articles that copy your registered design in Canada.


A trademark is a unique combination of letters, words, sounds or designs as well as other non-traditional signs such as scent, taste and texture, used to distinguish your company’s goods or services from others in the marketplace. Over time a trademark also comes to stand for your company’s reputation and goodwill.

Registering your trademark in Canada gives you the exclusive right, renewable every 10 years, to use the trademark and to protect your goods and services against misuse by others in the Canadian marketplace.

Copyright applies to a wide range of original works such as literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works, performances and sound recordings. It provides a time-limited, exclusive right to produce, reproduce, perform or publish the work or any substantial part of it. An original work is automatically protected by copyright the moment you create it, however, registering your copyright provides greater certainty to enforce your copyright in Canada. The general term of copyright protection in Canada is life of the author plus 50 years.

Trade secrets

A trade secret is a form of IP that derives its value from secrecy – it loses its value when revealed, independently created, or reverse-engineered. It can be described as a secret formula or process, has commercial value for your business, gives your business an advantage over competitors who do not know it, and may be known only to a few people in your business. Examples include recipes, formulas, patterns, programs, sales methods, client lists, and strategies.

Trade secrets cannot be registered in Canada, but can potentially last forever provided it remains a secret.

Once the secret is out, its value for your business is lost. Your business can actively protect its trade secrets by using confidentiality agreements, lock and key, encryption, etc.

Intellectual Property Ontario

Learn about a new Ontario agency that provides intellectual property supports and services to help businesses and researchers grow their innovation and market opportunities.

Develop an intellectual property strategy

It is critical that you develop an IP strategy as you start and grow your business. It can help you:

  • generate revenue
  • value your intangible assets
  • enforce legal rights
  • defend against lawsuits
  • build your brand
  • attract financing
  • develop new business partnerships

Similar to a business strategy, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to an IP strategy. It depends on the stage of your business, your sector, target market, business goals, etc. and should evolve as your business grows.

Avoid common IP mistakes

Mistakes made early on can be costly to your business but with the right knowledge of IP and an effective strategy, you can avoid them. Did you know:

  • if you share your invention publicly, like a picture on social media, you may have only 12 months from that date to file an application to patent that invention in Canada before anyone can freely use it themselves
  • there is no registration for a trade secret in Canada but there are ways to ensure it is kept secret, such as signing confidentiality agreements with your employees, contractors, and suppliers
  • in Canada, there is a time limit of 20 years on a patent and for an industrial design, the time limit is 10 years from registration or end of 15 years after filing date of application, whichever is later. You also need to apply for a patent or industrial design in other countries if you want to be protected there
  • trademarking your brand in other countries can deter copycat brands from popping up in those markets
  • not-for-profit organizations must respect IP rights of others but may qualify for fair- dealing exemptions under Canadian copyright laws

Not-for-profits and intellectual property

Intellectual property also applies to not-for-profits.

It’s important to learn about IP to make sure you protect your organization’s IP and have permission to use others’ IP.

Under Canadian copyright law, a not-for-profit or charitable organization wishing to reproduce another’s copyright protected work must obtain permission and may need to pay copyright royalties. There are some exceptions, relating to what’s called fair dealing under Canadian copyright law that may be available.

Intellectual property learning opportunities

The Centre for International Governance Innovation and the University of Toronto offer free online courses that explore the basic principles relating to the protection and strategic uses of IP for competitive advantage.

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) and the Innovative Asset Collective (IAC) offer learning opportunities about IP tailored for businesses and innovators.

For legal advice, please consult a lawyer.

Business loans for intellectual property

The Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) offers small business loans for up to $100,000, which can be used to apply for a patent, trademark or other intellectual property protection.

Play the intellectual property game

BDC has an intellectual property game designed to help you master the basics of intellectual property and safeguard your intangible assets.

Protect your trademark

Consider registering a trademark for your business or not-for-profit.

Apply to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office to register your trademark.

Protect your copyright

Register or transfer copyright to your business or not-for-profit.