Archive for the 'The Basics' Category

Intellectual Asset Management Best Practices – Part 2

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By Richard Stobbe

In Part 1, we looked at three important steps in starting an intellectual asset management process within your organization. “Intellectual assets” can include the know-how and intellectual capital within your organization together with registered and unregistered intellectual property (IP), inventions, trade-secrets, patents, copyright-protected works, trademarks, industrial designs, and other forms of IP.

As we reviewed in Part 1, intellectual asset management starts with (i) an internal IP audit, coupled with (ii) internal education about the strategic importance of intellectual property within the organization; and (iii) the organization should establish a screening process, to weigh the various factors that influence how to innovate through “make versus buy” decisions.

In Part 2, we take a deeper dive. An organization can be innovative without being commercially successful. In other words, there is often a gap between the creative process of innovating, and the successful commercialization of those innovations. By implementing the steps in Part 1, an organization becomes more sophisticated in its treatment and analysis of intellectual assets, and an organization will develop a culture in which IP is understood and valued. That helps close that gap. However, this does not necessarily mean that intellectual assets will become an engine of economic value. That requires the development of additional skills and competencies within the organization. Consider the following “next steps”:

  1. Strategic Alignment: Let’s be clear. IP should not drive the organization. Rather, the strategic goals of the organization should inform the intellectual asset management strategy. Ensure that IP policies are aligned with the strategic goals of the organization. Consider the organization in question: is this a university? A government research lab? A medium-sized for-profit business, or maybe it’s a growing business with markets in multiple jurisdictions.
    • How is success measured for this organization?
    • Are there immediate goals of raising capital?
    • Entering a new international market?
    • Attracting investors?
    • Making a strategic alliance or partnership?
    • Should the IP policy reflect a defensive or offensive position?

    All of these organizations will have different strategic goals and must ensure that their intellectual asset management strategy reflects and supports the overarching goals of the organization. IP is only one piece of the puzzle.

  2. Gap Analysis: An IP audit is focussed primarily on taking an inventory of the organization’s intellectual assets. A ‘gap analysis’ is the next step: it’s an assessment of what’s missing from the organization’s IP toolbox. What does the organization need in order to achieve its goals? And how can the gaps in the organization’s IP inventory be filled, considering the strategic goals involved. This internal analysis can lead to an external, “outward looking” review. What is available in the marketplace, either through acquisition, in-licensing or strategic partnership? See also the “make versus buy decisions” discussed in Part 1. In connection with the analysis of “gaps” in the IP portfolio, look at any gaps in the paper: How do employment agreements and consultant agreements deal with IP ownership issues and confidentiality? Do vendor or supplier agreements need to be bolstered to address IP issues? Perhaps standard-form end-user licenses or service agreements need to be reviewed to ensure that the treatment of IP is in alignment with the organization’s overall intellectual asset management policies.
  3. IP Exploitation: As mentioned above, an organization may be adept at innovating, and it may have a sophisticated process of cataloguing internal IP, and even assessing the gaps in that portfolio. IP commercialization and exploitation is the process by which an organization extracts value from its intellectual assets. This can be from product sales, or from out-licensing of IP-protected services and processes, as well as licensing relationships and franchise agreements, joint ventures and cross-licensing. An organization must understand the steps to market, whether through its own sales channels, or through distributorships or resellers. And the process of bringing innovations to market will be supported by a well-designed intellectual asset management system.

Richard Stobbe is an IP lawyer, trademark agent and Certified Licensing Professional. To discuss the importance of intellectual assets within your organization, contact Richard Stobbe in our Intellectual Property and Technology Group.

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Industrial Design as a Competitive Tool

By Richard Stobbe

Industrial design law in Canada protects the visual features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornamentation which are applied to a product. Functional elements are not protected.

Think of the unique shape of a bottle. The functional elements – such as a handle, a cap or lid – those elements could not be protected by industrial design, but design elements like a curved neck, or say a ridged pattern or other ornamental features could be protected.

If the article or product has been “published” (i.e., it’s been made public or offered for sale or use) then it won’t be eligible for protection. However, if the product or article has been “published”, there is a 12 month grace period in which to obtain registration. So timing is important and protection can be lost if the product launch is not coordinated with IP rights protection.

For protection under the Industrial Designs Act, registration is required, and lasts for 10 years from the date of registration. Note that at the five year point, a maintenance fee is required. After the expiry of the 10-year term, the design is available for anyone in Canada to make, import, rent or sell.

Some points to consider for the use of industrial design law as a tool for strategic IP protection:

  • industrial designs (also known as a design patent in the US) can be a perfect fit for companies selling manufactured consumer goods and packaged goods, but can also be a competitive tool for service companies who are trying to protect a product or device that is used or sold as part of a service offering
  • industrial design can help fill in the gaps between utility patents, trademarks and copyright
  • when considering protection, focus on features that would distinguish your product from competitors, and features that competitors or knock-off infringers would want to copy in order to mimic your products
  • the scope and period of protection is much narrower than the scope of a utility patent, but it can be a very useful tool, and much more cost-effective means of obtaining protection in the right circumstances.

Talk to experienced IP counsel for advice on exploring the possible advantages of industrial design law for your organization.

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Primer on Contract Interpretation (Part 3)

In two earlier posts (see here and here), we reviewed the Alberta Court of Appeal’s guidelines to assist with basic contract interpretation (in Bhasin v. Hrynew). In this post we wrap up our primer on the Court’s guidelines. According to the Court:

  • Mental suffering is not compensated in contracts law (the only caveat is whether “harsh modes of termination” might trigger damages in the case of an employment contract).
  • What if one of the parties is at a significant disadvantage in bargaining power? Where two parties are negotiating and there is some inequality in “bargaining power, need, or knowledge”, that alone is not enough to justify an amendment to the terms of a contract. However, the court might be willing to step in and amend the terms of a contract in the case of “actual unconscionability”. What does “unconscionable” mean? It depends…. Here’s an example: In the recent case of Maloney v. Dockside Marine Centre Ltd., 2013 BCSC 395, an exclusion clause in a standard purchase-and-sale contract was consider by the court to be “unconscionable” because there was an inequality in the position of the parties, with a sophisticated and experienced vendor versus an unsophisticated purchaser.
  • What if you are negotiating and the other side makes a promise that never makes it into the agreement? There is a concept in contract law called “parol evidence”. This refers to evidence of verbal or extraneous negotiations or agreements between the parties, that might explain, interpret or alter the written terms of a contract. Think of all the discussions and email exchanges that never appear in the final written document … but they might help explain or shed light on certain provisions of the written agreement. The Court has indicated that such evidence should be used very conservatively. An “entire agreement” clause can validly exclude this type of evidence of previous negotiations or promises (assuming there is no actual fraud). In other words, do not rely on this type of evidence to explain the written agreement. If you want a certain term or promise in the agreement, then it should appear in writing.
  • “Courts should be especially wary of altering or interpreting creatively formal contracts carefully negotiated and written, with legal advice”; and finally
  • “Courts should not attempt after the fact to rewrite a contract to accord with what the court now thinks, or one party now believes, is more just or more businesslike, especially in the full light of hindsight.”

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

Primer on Contract Interpretation (Part 2)

As mentioned in Part 1, the Alberta Court of Appeal (in Bhasin v. Hrynew) has provided some helpful guidelines to assist with basic contract interpretation.

If you deal with contracts in your job, then here are some tips to see how the courts will interpret your agreements.

From time to time a question comes up about what terms are “implied” in the written agreement. Yes, the terms appear clear to one side, but the other side argues that certain provisions should be included by implication, even though those terms are not specifically written in the contract. What is the Court’s view on this? To paraphrase from the judgement:

  • Courts are generally against implying terms into a written agreement.
  • Courts can imply terms in contracts only when the new term is: (i) so obvious that it was not even thought necessary to mention, or (ii) truly necessary to make the contract work at all. This is not a question of making the contact “merely reasonable” or “fair” for both sides, but a question of what is completely obvious or absolutely essential for the contract to make sense.
  • Merely foreseeing that something might happen is not enough to justify adding implied terms; both parties “must have intended the term” to be included.
  • A term cannot be implied in a contract which would contradict an express term of that contract. In other words, an implied term cannot be added where it would go against the clear written provisions that the parties agreed to.

More to come.

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Primer on Contract Interpretation (Part 1)

Intellectual property (IP) contracts in Alberta are interpreted just as any contract would be. The same basic rules of interpretation apply, whether it is an IP assignment or transfer, a software license, a complex techology asset acquisition, the hiring of a technology employee or consultant, a non-disclosure agreement or any commercial agreement with an IP element.

The Alberta Court of Appeal in Bhasin v. Hrynew, 2013 ABCA 98, has provided some helpful guidelines to assist with basic contract interpretation. If you deal with contracts in your job, then here are some tips to see how the courts will interpret your agreements:

  • Think there is a duty to perform contractual obligations in “good faith”? Guess again. “There is no duty to perform most contracts in good faith.” The court cited an Ontario decision (Transamerica Life Canada v ING Canada 2003 CanLII 9923 (ON CA) (para 51)) and two Alberta Court of Appeal cases (Mesa Operating Partnership v Amoco Canada Resources (1994) 149 AR 187 (CA) and Klewchuk v Switzer, 2003 ABCA 187 (CanLII)). The courts in these cases found no general duty of “good faith”, and they involved very different types of contract.
  • What about in employment agreements, where (arguably) there is an imbalance of power in favour of the employer? The court said there is a relatively narrow duty of good faith in employment contracts: Employers must not announce or implement termination in a “harsh or demeaning way”. This applies to the method of termination, not the reasons for the termination. Other than that, there is no general duty of good faith in employment contracts. The Court cited two cases which state that employment contracts are not generally contracts of good faith in all respects. (Wallace v United Grain Growers 1997 CanLII 332 (SCC),  and Keays v Honda Canada, 2008 SCC 39 (CanLII).

More to come.

Calgary – 07:00

ipblog.ca & applaw.ca

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Bookmark ipblog.ca on your iPhone, iPad, Android tablet or mobile device for updates and developments in Canadian intellectual property law, including practical information and commentary on intellectual property business issues, technology commercialization and developments in the law, copyright and patent questions, trade-mark law, software and IT outsourcing, and related areas including privacy and cleantech licensing.

ipblog has been published since 2006.  In 2009, we added applaw.ca to our site, covering legal developments in the growing mobile application industry.

We have surpassed 1 million page-views from readers around the world. It’s hard to compete against YouTube cats… but we try.

Thanks to all of our readers. We’ll be taking a break during the month of August, and will resume in September, 2012.

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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IP for the Oil Patch – June 6, 2012

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Join the Field Law IP & Technology Group for a breakfast seminar on June 6, 2012, in Nisku, Alberta, on the following subjects:

  • patents for oilfield service companies;
  • intellectual property issues;
  • non-disclosure and confidential information in the oil patch;
  • copyright and trade-marks, brand protection.

Registration details: RSVP to rsvpEdmonton@fieldlaw.com or (403) 260-8502.

Calgary – 10:30 MDT

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IP Issues in Corporate-Commercial Transactions

 

My article on “Intellectual Property Issues in Corporate-Commercial Transactions” is published in the Field Law newsletter The Medium.

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Alberta’s Innovation System

 

 

Join us on March 1, 2012, (see our Events page) for the upcoming meeting of the Licensing Executives Society (LES) on The Alberta Innovation System. Technology commercialization has its challenges. However, resources and funding programs are available to support technology development for small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in Alberta. Within Alberta, the “innovation system” has undergone reorganization over the past 2 years. In Calgary, Calgary Technologies Inc., (CTI), and University Technologies International, (UTI) have amalgamated to form Innovate Calgary. Across the province, Alberta Ingenuity, Alberta Research Council, iCORE and nanoAlberta have merged into Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures (AITF).

How does this impact licensing professionals, counsel, advisors, SMEs and entrepreneurs? What do you need to know about commercialization support within Alberta? Attend the LES Alberta Innovation System luncheon with our panel: Darren Massey Senior VP, Innovate Calgary, David Reese, Vice President, Licensing, Innovate Calgary and Scott Bass, Alberta Innovates – Technology Futures.  

Calgary 07:00 MST   

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Battle of the Blocks

 

Courtesy of Lego

 Two of my favourite topics: intellectual property and Lego. The Danish toy-maker has been trying to protect its iconic toy bricks since they were developed in the 1930s and ’40s. Trade-mark law protects the brand (LEGO), and trade-marks can live on and on, as long as the owner (a) uses the mark, and (b) continues to renew the trade-mark registration. The LEGO trade-mark was registered in Canada in 1957 and that registration is still valid.  Last week, Lego’s arch-rival, the Canadian-based toy-maker of Mega Bloks filed and then abruptly withdrew a lawsuit in the US, after threats that Mega Bloks products would be barred from entry into the United States, based on infringement of Lego’s US trade-marks. This reflects the sparring between these two competitors for market share in the building-toy industry.

In Canada, the decision in Kirkbi AG v. Ritvik Holdings Inc., 2005 SCC 65 (CanLII), settled a long-standing feud between Lego and Mega Bloks.  In that case, the court decided that the Lego building blocks themselves are not protectable as trade-marks in Canada, on the grounds that the shape of the blocks is purely functional in nature. This does not apply to the LEGO word, or the various other trade-marks that Lego owns. Lego has suffered similar set-backs in other countries – for example, a 2010 decision in the EU came to the same conclusion that functional elements of a trade-mark are not protectable. So what’s a toy-maker to do?

  • Patents – utility patents in Canada will protect the function of the invention, in this case, the improved mechanism of how the plastic bricks snap together. However, patents expire after 20 years. Lego’s patents have all expired.
  • Industrial Design –  this category of protection (in the US, known as “design patents”) will protect the visual features of a product (shape, configuration, pattern or ornament). Functional elements cannot be protected. Industrial design protection expires after 10 years. Lego has registered dozens of industrial designs to protect a variety of building bricks and parts.
  • Copyright – some products are protectable under copyright law, though toy bricks don’t lend themselves well to this category, which is designed to protect written works, music, images, photos, paintings, that sort of thing. Copyright lasts for 50 years after the death of the author.
  • Trade-marks – the LEGO brand is arguably the toy-maker’s strongest asset, and trade-marks, once registered, are renewable indefinitely. Trade-marks protect things such as the word LEGO, the associated logo, and various product lines and slogans, such as DUPLO and BIONICLE.
  • Distinguishing Guise – A distinguishing guise is a type of trade-mark that protects a very specific type of “brand”. It applies to the shape of the products or the packaging, such as the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle. Since this is a species of trade-mark, the protection is renewable indefinitely once it’s registered. However, utilitarian features cannot be protected.

Calgary – 07:00 MST

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Patents: The Basics

 

In a new series, we review the basics of Canadian trade-mark, copyright and patent law.

  • Canadian Patents: Patents protect inventions, such as a process, machine, manufactured article, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement to an existing invention. Patents provide the patent owner with the right to exclude others from making, selling, or using the patented invention for a period of 20 years from the date of filing. In exchange, the patent owner must fully disclose the invention. To be patentable, the invention must be new (in other words, be the first in the world); it must be useful (functional and operative); and it must be non-obvious (in other words, it shows “inventive ingenuity” and is not obvious to someone skilled in that area).  Abstract ideas, a mathematical formula or algorithm, or scientific principles are not patentable.
  • Best Practices:
    • Non-Dislosure: Any public disclosure of the invention prior to filing can result in loss of patentability. Canada has a 12 month grace period, permitting the filing of a Canadian patent application within one year of disclosure, but this grace period is not available in most countries.
    • Patent Searching:  A patentability search is recommended before the patent application is prepared. The search and opinion will confirm the patentability of the invention, and can provide insight to a patent agent on how to craft the patent application.
    • Provisional Patent: In the US, inventors can file what is known as a “provisional patent application”, and while there is no exact equivalent in Canada, it is possible in Canada to file a simplified form of a patent application, which is often used as a way to quickly secure a filing date. Some inventors fall into the trap of thinking “I’ve got a provisional patent” since an application of this type has been filed. But a provisional will never be examined and will never issue as a patent. Think of this as an incomplete application, since that’s what it is. The provisional or incomplete application must be followed up with a complete application within 12 months in the US, and within 15 months in Canada, after which the patent rights will be lost.  
    • Use a registered patent agent: Even the Canadian Intellectual Property Office warns of unauthorized and incompetent advisors who are not qualified to prosecute patent applications before the patent office. 
  • Patents Outside Canada:  Patent rights are granted country-by-country, so an issued patent in Canada is not enforceable in the United States, for example, without obtaining patent rights in that country.  A patent application must be filed in each country. Canadian inventors can apply for foreign patents from within Canada through the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), which provides a standardized international filing system. Through the PCT, a Canadian company can access the application process for 142 PCT member countries.
  • Design Patent: See Industrial Design.

For more information and assistance with your patent and intellectual property needs, visit Field’s Intellectual Property & Technology Group

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Copyright: The Basics

 

In a new series, we review the basics of Canadian trade-mark, copyright and patent law.

  • Canadian Copyright: The Canadian Copyright Act gives authors the right to control their creative works, such as books and pictures. Under copyright law, the concept of “author” is understood broadly and includes software programmers, photographers, musicians, mobile-app developers, animators, graphic designers, artists, dancers, writers, cinematographers, painters and poets. Original creative works are protected automatically under the Copyright Act, which gives authors the right to make copies for the term of copyright. Copyright generally lasts for 50 years after the death of the author.  It is an infringement of copyright to makes unauthorized copies of a work that is protected by copyright. One important point to remember is that copyright law does not protect ideas or concepts, but protects the expression of the idea – as expressed in written or fixed form, such as a book, a sound recording, a photo or a painting.
  • Best Practices:
    • Notation – A standard copyright notation is “© ABC Company Inc. 2011, all rights reserved.” A notation of this type is not required by the Copyright Act but it is recommended on copyright protected works.
    • Register Copyright – Registration is relatively easy and inexpensive, and provides the owner with proof of ownership of copyright . In Canada, you are not required to submit a copy of the work with your application for registration.
    • Public Domain – Just because something is publicly available on the internet does not mean that it’s in the “public domain” for copyright purposes. The concept of “public domain” refers to the expiry of copyright protection. So, for example, the original works of Shakespeare or an 18th century painting can be said to be in the public domain since the term of copyright has lapsed.
  • Copyright in Software: Software, even open source software, is subject to copyright. The owner of the software could be the author of the code, or a company employing the author. To protect the intellectual property rights in software of any kind – whether it’s sold on a disc at the retail level, or is downloadable, whether an operating system or a mobile app – the owner should use proper copyright notations and implement a well-drafted license agreement. An end-user software license is a contract between the owner and the user that deals with topics such as ownership, use restrictions, warranties, liability, tech support, and related terms.
  • Copyright Outside Canada: Under the Copyright Act and international copyright conventions, Canadians enjoy copyright protection in countries who are parties to treaties such as the Berne Convention, Universal Copyright Convention and the Rome Convention. Even with this legal framework in place, enforcement of copyright is challenging in the context of the internet, since infringement can occur easily and anonymously in multiple jurisdictions on multiple servers. Specialized assistance is usually required in combatting copyright infringement outside Canada.  

For more information and assistance with your copyright and software licensing needs, visit Field’s Intellectual Property & Technology Group

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Trade-marks: The Basics

 

In a new series, we review the basics of Canadian trade-mark, copyright and patent law.

  • Canadian Trade-marks: Trade-marks protect the rights to brand names, such as a word, logo or design. A trade-mark is used in the marketplace to identify products of one company, and distinguish these products from others in the marketplace. Trade-marks can be extremely valuable assets of a company, and represent the company’s reputation with consumers. If mishandled or left unprotected, trade-mark rights can be eroded or lost. In Canada, trade-marks can be registered through the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, and a Trade-mark Agent can assist with screening searches and registration services.
  • Best Practices:
    • Registration – Seek registration for your core brands. This extends your rights to that mark, in connection with your products, across Canada. Unregistered marks do not enjoy the same scope of protection.
    • Screening Searches – Make better business decisions with better information. Searches are critical, particularly before launching a new brand. This helps assess risk and provides insight about potential competitors in the marketplace.
    • Notation –  Mark your brands with the symbol or the ® symbol for registered marks. Consider establishing brand guidelines for your organization.
    • Licensing – Marks used within a large corporate group, or between a parent company and its subsidiaries, licensees or franchisees, should be properly licensed. Otherwise, a company risks losing its rights to unlicensed marks.
  • Trade-marks on the Internet: Trade-mark policing and enforcement is challenging in the context of the internet, since infringement can easily occur in any jurisdiction, and from any server. Establish a strategy that’s suitable and cost-effective in your industry, coordinating with your domain names and your national and international brand portfolio.
  • Trade-marks Outside Canada: If you have or are seeking customers outside Canada, then get advice on trade-mark protection in those markets, whether in the US, China, the EU, or developing markets in South America. Trade-mark rights are governed country-by-country, so remember that trade-mark rights in Canada will not provide any protection in the US or elsewhere. Prioritize your brands and markets and seek assistance from professionals who can help establish a strategy for brand protection beyond Canada’s borders.

For more information and assistance with your trade-mark needs visit Field’s Intellectual Property & Technology Group

Calgary – 07:00 MDT

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Trade-marks Q & A – Usage Guidelines

 

In an earlier post we answered some common questions about trade-marks. Here are a few more practical issues about usage guidelines:

Q: What are “trade-mark usage guidelines”?

A: A set of “trade-mark usage guidelines” is like a rule-book on how a trade-mark should be used and displayed. These guidelines are designed to guide those who might not otherwise know (or care about) the specifics of how the trade-mark should appear. Guidelines of this type might specify the type of font, the particular colours which should be used, the size and relative position, and the placement of the trade-mark in relation to other elements on the label, or page or ad copy. They should go into enough detail to direct someone in the proper and consistent use of the trade-mark.

Q: Why are they necessary?

A: Trade-mark usage guidelines are necessary because consistency in the appearance of the trade-mark is very important to maintain the validity and strength of the mark over time. If a trade-mark changes too much over time or is inconsistent in the way it is used, it may lose distinctiveness and be open to attack by competitors. Look at the distinctive script used in the Coca-cola trademark. It has been used in the same way since the 1880s and strict guidelines ensure that the relative size, colour and shape of the script remain consistent across time and across a multitude of uses, from bottle and pop can labels to every conceivable type of spin-off merchandising.

Q: When would trade-mark usage guidelines be necessary?

A:  Trade-mark usage guidelines are necessary when others within your company, or others outside your company who are licensed to use your mark, need to reproduce the trade-mark regularly in the course of advertising, labelling, packaging or corporate communications. It is a way of setting and maintaining certain standards when you don’t have direct control over the use of the mark. Here are a few examples: In a large company, guidelines can be distributed to the marketing department, so that the person in charge of the online advertising can be reading from the same set of standards as someone producing corporate T-shirts, or someone sending instructions to an ad agency producing magazine ads or the intern designing the annual report. These are all uses that technically take place within the company or within the direct control of the company. Another trade-mark owner may have franchised its business model so that a hundred individual franchisees all use the mark for their own local advertising across the country or in different countries. Usage guidelines will ensure brand consistency across the entire franchise. Guidelines can also be useful for resellers, authorized distributors or service providers.

Q: Can you give me some tips on trade-mark usage guidelines?

A: Yes, when developing trade-mark usage guidelines, you should keep in mind several things: Who is your audience? Present your guidelines in a way that makes sense for those using the mark. It may make sense to keep the guidelines confidential within the company. It may make sense to publish guidelines on the internet, if that is the most effective way to protect the integrity of the brand. Your marketing department may simply need some basic guidance by email, with a designated “official” file attachment containing the approved form of the mark. Or, you may need a more involved explanation of trademark usage. Some companies prepare detailed guidelines that explain exactly what to do and what not to do. Also, look at what marks you are trying to control. Make sure you list and identify the marks governed by the guidelines. Some marks may not need to be covered by the guidelines. Sone marks may be old forms of the trade-mark that you wish to phase out in favour of a new colour scheme or style as part of a controlled evolution to a new brand.

For a few examples of effective trade-mark usage guidelines, see:
Sun Microsystems
Macromedia
Apple

Calgary – 00:06 MST

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Trade-marks Q & A

Calgary – 22:09 MST – Many companies want some basic guidance on trade-mark usage. This discussion provides some practical tips and information on trade-marks in Canada.

Q: What is a trade-mark?

A: A trade-mark is a brand name which distinguishes one company’s products or services from the products and services of all the competitors in the marketplace. It’s a way of identifying which product or service comes from which company or “source”. The most common forms of trade-mark are logos or designs (for example, the Nike swoosh or the Royal Bank lion), letters or initials (such as IBM or DKNY) or slogans (such as “Don’t leave home without it” or “The breakfast of champions”). Successful trade-marks are valuable assets of their owners which convey a secondary meaning to consumers.

Q: How are trade-marks created?

A: Trade-marks are created through use. In this sense, “use” refers to use of the mark by the trade-mark owner in association with the sale of the owner’s products and services. Registration is not required for a trade-mark to exist, although registration is recommended. When you apply to register your trade-mark, your trade-mark agent will ask you about the “date of first use”. In other words, the question is “When did you start using your mark in the sense of selling products or services in association with that mark?” It does not refer to the date when you first had the idea for your mark, or the date business cards were printed, or any number of other points which might be mistaken for actual “use” in this sense. To document your use of the trade-mark, keep copies of invoices, hang-tags, labels, copies of advertising, pictures of signage and other indicators which coincide with the date of sales of your products or services using that mark.

Q: When do I use the “TM” and the ®?

A: This is a common question. In Canada, the Trade-marks Act does not refer to the TM or ® symbols. Customarily, the TM symbol is used to designate unregistered trade-marks and the ® is used with registered trade-marks. If you have a registered trade-mark, always use the ® symbol, to put the world on notice that you have registered trade-mark rights in connection with that mark. If your mark is unregistered, then use the TM as a way of indicating your intention to protect the mark. For those trading into the United States, we recommend using the ® symbol only in association with a mark registered in the US. The use of the ® symbol in the US for a mark which is not registered in the US can be considered a type of offence under what is essentially consumer-protection legislation.

Q: What’s the difference between a registered trade-mark and one that isn’t registered?

A: A mark can be unregistered and still be a valid trade-mark. This is known as a “common law” mark. A trade-mark owner enjoys more benefits and rights of enforcement under the Trade-marks Act if the mark is registered.

Q: What happens in the registration process?

A: The registration process starts with searches to determine the availability and registrability of the proposed mark. A trade-mark agent will typically render a report or opinion on the availability and registrability of the mark. If the path forward is clear, an application is prepared in a particular form, and submitted to the Trade-marks Office (the Canadian Intellectual Property Office) for examination. An examiner at the office will review the application and if there are no objections to registration (for example, an objection based on the similarity of the proposed mark with an existing mark owned by someone else), the mark will proceed. The examination process ends in “advertisement” of the mark which refers to the publication of the proposed mark (along with all the other proposed marks which are being applied for) in the Trade-marks Journal. A third-party (usually a competitor) may take the opportunity to oppose the application if the mark is confusingly similar to an existing mark, or if the mark is vulnerable to attack on any number of other grounds of opposition. Assuming there is no opposition or the opposition challenge is defeated (or a negotiated settlement is reached) the mark may proceed to allowance and ultimately registration. The whole process can take 12 – 18 months.

Q: Can others use my trade-mark?

A: In short, no-one else should use a mark without the permission and control of the owner. This goes for business partners, affiliates, joint-venture partners, distrubutors, even subsidiaries. Any use by someone other than the owner can jeopardize the mark. All such uses by others should be properly controlled and documented with properly-drafted Trade-mark License Agreements.

Q: Can you give me some tips on trade-mark usage guidelines?

A: Yes, tips on trade-mark usage will appear in future posts!

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