Copyright, trademark or patent?

Published: Oct 25, 2010
Last Updated: Jun 8, 2017

Most people, if asked to explain the difference between copyright, trademarks and patents, would have a hard time coming up with a clear answer.

As a business owner, however, the importance of these three areas of intellectual property makes it well worth understanding the differences between these three terms, and how each can potentially apply to your business operations.

To start with, the website for the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) offers simple overview definitions of the three terms:

"A patent is a right, granted by government, to exclude others from making, using, or selling your invention in Canada."

"A trade-mark is a word (or words), a design, or a combination of these, used to identify the goods or services of one person or organization."

"In the simplest terms, "copyright" means "the right to copy." In general, only the copyright owner, often the creator of the work, is allowed to produce or reproduce the work or to permit anyone else to do so."

Still not 100% confident with these definitions? A good exercise is to take your own business and to list off all of the possible inventions your company might devise (if any), the images or phrases you might use (or already are using) to advertise your company and all of the 'creations' that your business might produce (artwork, photographs, written works, etc.).

Did you know...
Ninety percent of patents are for improvements to existing patented inventions.
Source: CIPO


Using a made-up business as an example: Jerome's Brewery in Burnaby, BC makes a unique craft beer that uses only carbonated water during the brewing process.

  • To prevent competitors from using his brewing method, Jerome might apply for a patent for 'CARBONATED WATER BEER' or something similar.
  • In marketing his product, Jerome takes out a series of newspaper ads. In them he uses the phrase 'The Beer with Fizz', which is a big hit with customers. To prevent competitors from using the same advertising slogan for their own products, he might apply for a a trademark for the series of words used.
  • Lastly, Jerome is an aspiring artist, and he personally created the west-coast themed artwork that he used to label his bottles. To protect this form of intellectual property, he might seek copyright protection for his creation.  

These three forms of intellectual property play an important role in Canada, and it is in your best interest to have a basic understand of what is and is not considered intellectual property, and how it could affect your business.

Industry Canada provides Canadians with a wealth of information, including searchable databases for patents, trade-marks and copyrights in Canada. For a complete reading on the rules and regulations in Canada visit their website and browse the topics of importance to you and your business.

Canadian Intellectual Property Office (website)

Here are a few other places to find general information about intellectual property inside and outside of Canada:

UBC Library Guide to Patent Research
PIUG - Patent Information Users Group Inc.
Resource Shelf: Patent Research

Copyright Board of Canada
Copyright Law in Canada (article)
US Copyright Office

Trademark Law in Canada
Trademark Registration in Canada -


PHOTO CREDIT: Photo Oxymoronic Intellectual Property created by psd on Nov 3, 2007, available under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Last viewed on Oct 25, 2010.