Canadian Law: IP Basics

Broadly defined, intellectual property is any form of knowledge or expression created with one's intellect. Scientific discoveries, computer software, literary works, art, and music can all be considered intellectual property. The law defines the forms of statutory protection for intellectual property, and the two most relevant for the academic environment are copyright and patents.

  Copyright Patent
Definition The exclusive right to produce or reproduce, to perform in public or to publish as an original expression of an idea, be it a literary or artistic work, computer software or other electronically stored information.

The exclusive privilege to make, use or sell a new and useful invention for a set number of years, granted to the inventors.  To be patentatble, an invention must:

  • Be novel;
  • Have utility; and
  • Be a development that would not have been obvious beforehand to workers of average skill in the area.
Exclusions Does not protect the ideas contained in the work, but only the particular expression of the ideas. Scientific theorems or principles, mere ideas, methods of doing business, as well as anything that is illegal, are not patentable.
Process Exists automatically as soon as an original work is created. Rights are not automatic.  Inventors must disclose inventions to the Federal government and apply for protection.
Term of Protection Protection lasts 50 years following the death of the creator. Patentn rights last 20 years from the date a patent application is filed.
Foregin Coverages Copyright extends automatically in other countries, but the term of protection depends on each country's national law. Patents do not automatically extend to foreign jurisdictions.  Inventors much apply for patents in all countries where they want protection.

Inventions Require Discretion

While the dissemination of knowledge and scholarly discourse are expectations at UofTM, and the publication of research results is an integral part of academic life, special care must be taken to prevent the premature disclosure of a patentable discovery. A patent application must be filed before any public disclosure of the new discovery in order to secure maximum patent protection. In most international jurisdictions, any public disclosure (including seminars and lectures) immediately eliminates any opportunity for patent protection.

Ideally, researchers should recognize the potential commercial value of their work early on in the research planning process. If the possibility of an invention or discovery seems high, the researchers should be extra diligent in both record-keeping and in monitoring the subsequent disclosure of the research results. UofTM’s Research Office and the University of Toronto Research Services office are available to provide advice and assistance to faculty, staff and students regarding the evaluation of potential value and process for patent protection.

Avoid Potential Disputes

If research is being conducted by a team, all members of the project team, especially graduate students, should discuss and document intellectual property issues with the project's principal investigator before beginning work on the project. The project's principal investigator should be in a position to document for all participants any restrictions relating to the ownership, publication and use of any data or results. Ideally, the research conditions for everyone involved should be outlined in a letter from the principal investigator before team members become engaged.