How to protect your inventions...
 A business is usually built on the. process, idea or vision of a single entrepreneur. But these days, new processes or ideas often become available around the world very quickly, because they are stolen. imitated or copied.
 That's why it's vital for an innovative company to understand the legal tools to protect these ideas - trademarks, copyrights and patents.
 Trademarks are words or designs that distinguish a product or service from its competition in the market- place and also indicate its source. An example would be Loblaws Cos. Ltd.'s President's Choice food brand.
  The best trademarks are words or designs that either have no meaning at all, or have a meaning or appearance completely unrelated to the underlying product. An example would be Xerox copiers.
  These most effective trademarks are more effective at distinguishing your products or services, and are better able to prevent competitors from using similar names.
   Copyright applies to original literary, dramatic, musical and artistic works including sales material, articles, drawings, or software designs. Any time you create an original work you automatically get a copyright in that work. This means that nobody has the right to copy or use it.
    However, copyright does not protect the ideas embodied in the work. You could not stop someone from writing about the same thing in his own words. The author usually owns The owner-manager the copyright, but if the author is an employee, copyright will usually belong to the employer.
   Patents protect underlying ideas to the extent such ideas are new and not obvious. For example, the idea of making the glue tacky in a Post-It note is not obvious. Patents cover all manner of methods, machines, articles, and compositions, but not scientific principles or business schemes.
   Protective measures
   There are several things you can do to protect ideas through trademarks, copyrights, or patents:
  • Start by determining if there is any area of your business where these protections might apply. For example, if you hire someone to create a new video, who owns the rights to the content
   You may assume that because you paid for the production, the rights are owned by you. Not necessarily. If the contract is not specific on this matter, the person you hired owns the copyright on the creative content of the video and you would lose a valuable asset.
  • Establish a relationship with a top law firm that specializes in this field. Registrations can be a tricky process. An expert can properly advise you on your rights under the law to ensure that proper registrations are in effect, and that the intellectual property is being used properly.
    Two years ago, Bell Canada had several of its trademarks expunged as a result of unauthorized use and loss of distinctiveness - they were widely used by other phone companies - which caused it to lose the exclusive right to these trademarks.
  • Make sure employees sign an appropriate employment contract which clearly states that all trademarks copyrights or patents that they may help develop are the exclusive property of your company.
   For example, it is common practice in the software industry for sought after programmers and systems people to take an employer's proprietary information with them when they move to new jobs. If you have an appropriate employment or consulting contract signed with each individual, you can stop them from using this information at their next job.
  • When presenting new ideas or concepts to prospective purchasers or partners, make sure they sign an appropriate confidentiality agreement before they receive any material. This may be difficult to obtain but it is necessary. In a number of cases, prospective purchasers have simply stolen the seller's ideas or creativity and used it as their own.
    If you have documented proof that you created and presented the innovation to the organization before it worked on it, you will have important evidence that will help win in court.
   In one case, two partners created some material, but the partnership then broke up. One partner sold some of the material that had been created by the other one. A lawsuit followed. The case was settled out of court quickly when the creating partner produced documents to prove he was the author.
  • When you have a trademark, copyright or patent, it is important to use the appropriate symbols to identify them as such. The symbol for a trademark is ™ or ® if it is registered. For a copyright, it makes sense to place a © followed by the year of first publication and the name of the copyright owner.
    Patented items carry no particular symbol but the product's patent status should be specified at every opportunity. If the patent has been applied for but not yet issued, you could use "Patent pending."
    In obtaining a trademark or patent, your lawyer performs a search to see if any similar marks or patents exist. If the search is clear, the lawyer will file the appropriate documents with various government authorities, review and respond to any inquiries from government examiners and obtain confirmation that the marks or patents have been successfully registered.
   The length of the process will vary depending on the items being protected, but six months to two years is not an unusual time frame.
   Make sure you discuss with your lawyer the potential to register in other jurisdictions. There are standard conventions and agreements between various countries to provide for this. If you do not register, you have no Protection in those countries.
   Published November 10, 1997
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