Brilliant. Visionary. Cutting edge. All of these can be used to describe the talented innovators at work in our agricultural industries. Thinking outside of the box, creating new projects and tackling challenges with fresh outlooks often result in increased sustainability and industry growth. Innovative solutions, researched and developed by a few, will be valuable for many.
I think most, if not all, people would agree that innovators deserve to be recognized for and associated with their innovation and its resulting benefits. But, surely, the innovators should not have to rely on the good nature of people to make sure that they are recognized and associated with their work. And that is where my good friend, the law, comes into play.
Innovation is all around us. Much of it has become so commonplace, it is hard to think of it as innovation, but rather an everyday item taken for granted. When I’m in our orchard and thinking that I need to learn how to drive our Kubota® tractor, I don’t really think about the fact that KUBOTA is a registered trade-mark protected in the Canadian Intellectual Property Office.
When I read an article in this magazine and reflect on how useful the information I learned was, I don’t really think about the copyright protection the author has for their article. When I drink a glass of wine packaged in a really unique bottle, I admire the shape of the bottle, but I don’t really think about whether the shape is actually registered by its owner as a “distinguishing guise” and subject to legal protection. I often see orchardists spraying, but don’t turn my mind to whether the inner workings of that sprayer, the parts that make it tick, are protected by patents.
Trade-marks, copyrights and patents are all considered intellectual property (“IP”). IP is a type of property that a person can own, but cannot be seen. And when it comes to innovation, IP rights are one of an innovator’s best friends.
Protection of innovation by advancing your IP rights is not only a good business move; it can provide a competitive advantage. This is true even if IP is acquired from someone else, whether an employee, a contractor or through a business transaction. After spending your time, hard work and expertise on your innovation, actively protecting your work will help ensure it remains yours and is not duplicated by others.
Let’s talk about protection. If you are an inventor, a patent will provide you with exclusive protection for your invention.
Patents are designed to encourage and reward inventions and innovations. When patent protection is obtained, the inventor is granted the exclusive right to make, use or sell their invention for 20 years. After 20 years, the invention can be used by anyone. This is a major protection for inventors that should be discussed further with your legal advisor.
Pretend for a moment that you have obtained patent protection for a new widget that has revolutionized temperature controlled storage units. Now you alone can manufacture your widget, sell it to others or have others pay you for a license to make your widget for 20 years. As part of your marketing strategy, you have decided that it is important to brand your widget so others identify your widget with you and no one else. You name your widget a unique name, “MY COOL WIDGET” and your legal advisor has advised you to trade-mark the name “MY COOL WIDGET.”
A trade-mark is a mark used to differentiate the goods or services of the owner of the trade-mark from the goods or services of others. Words, logos, phrases, labels, pictures, sounds and product packaging can be trade-marked.
A registered trade-mark gives the owner of the trade-mark exclusive right to use the mark in Canada for the goods or services the mark relates to for 15 years; the trade-mark can be renewed for further 15 year periods indefinitely. Like patents, trade-marks provide key protection for innovators.
While we have briefly discussed patents and trade-marks, the information provided is just an overview and only scratches the surface of this area of law. There are several forms of IP capable of protection and perhaps one of the forms not addressed in my column may apply to your situation, whether you are an innovator or not.
IP should be an important part of your business and your strategic plan because these rights will help you protect and maintain a significant competitive advantage. Contact your legal advisor and obtain advice regarding your IP rights and how to protect them.