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Colbert and Stewart: Copyright fair dealing

Have you ever wondered how Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart can reproduce news clips without being sued for copyright infringement?

Just because something is under copyright doesn’t mean it cannot be copied or used by someone other than the author. Colbert and Stewart, as pundits who report on current events, criticize and perform parodies and satire, can rightly claim “fair use” under US copyright law in their use of news clips on their shows to avoid copyright infringement.

Similar to fair use in the US, under the fair dealing provisions of the Canadian Copyright Act, the Canadian general public can also use a copyrighted work without infringing copyright.

In general, fair dealing for the purpose of research, private study, criticism or review, or news reporting does not infringe copyright.  As long as the reproduction was “fair”, there is no copyright infringement.

The second step, whether the dealing is fair, depends on the facts of each case.  In CCH v. LSUC, 2004 SCC 13, the Supreme Court of Canada set out six non-exhaustive factors to determine whether a dealing is “fair”:

  1. the purpose of the dealing;
  2. the character of the dealing;
  3. the amount of the dealing;
  4. alternatives to the dealing;
  5. the nature of the work; and
  6. the effect of the dealing on the work.

These “fairness” factors mean that, for example, a wholesale copying of an entire show would probably not be considered “fair”, even if it was for the purpose of news reporting or criticism. But it does allow for short reproductions of clips a few seconds long, just like the clips reproduced on The Daily Show or the Colbert Report.

 

Trademarking a sound in Canada

Great news for marketers, as starting today, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office will accept trademark applications for a mark consisting of a sound.

This means that previously unprotected marketing materials such as jingles, vocal slogans, and song snippets that are used to identify with a brand can now be under trademark protection in Canada.

To register a sound mark, the application for the registration of a trade-mark should:

  1. state that the application is for the registration of a sound mark;
  2. contain a drawing that graphically represents the sound;
  3. contain a description of the sound; and
  4. contain an electronic recording of the sound.

Trademark registration and a search for prior use

Your brand is a way for your customers to identify and distinguish your goods and services from that of some else’s goods and services. Businesses therefore safeguard their brand with the registration of one or more trademarks.

When registering for a trademark, it’s important to do a search to find out if there’s another party that may also be using a confusingly similar mark somewhere else in Canada.

As the Supreme Court of Canada held last week in Masterpiece Inc. v. Alavida Lifestyles Inc., 2011 SCC 27, in order for the owner of a registered trademark to have exclusive use of the trademark throughout Canada, there cannot be a likelihood of confusion with another trademark anywhere in the country.

In view of this recent ruling, it is recommended that a search be done before filing for a trademark registration in order to properly determine whether or not the registration is likely to succeed.

Prior art and being the first to file a patent application

If you’ve heard of patents before you’ve probably heard of the term prior art.  A prior art is generally a public document that demonstrates the state of the art at a particular time.

Since patents are only awarded to an inventor for an invention that’s new and inventive over the current state of the art, when you file a patent application you want to know if there’s any prior art that can make your patent application not new or not inventive.  In Canada, any prior art from a third party that publicly disclosed your invention before you filed your patent application will take away your patent rights because it will make your patent application not new or not inventive.

So what should you do?  Before drafting your patent application, a search for prior art should be done to assess the current state of the art.  Knowing what kind of prior art is out there means that your patent application can be drafted so that it remains new and inventive over the prior art and increases its chances of being allowed as a patent.

Why patents are such a hassle to obtain – the public policy for patents

Many first-time inventors are surprised at the costs and time involved in obtaining a patent.  “Why is a patent so expensive to obtain and takes so many years to issue?”, they ask.

Because all patents applications must be carefully prepared by a qualified professional and must then go through a rigorous examination process. 

At its core, patents are a bargain between an inventor and society (in this case the people of Canada).

In return for a 20 year legal monopoly on his invention, the inventor agrees to teach society a new and non-obvious invention, one that the world has never before seen or contemplated. No mere idea, the inventor also teaches society how to make and use his invention in the best way the inventor knows how.

The patent application is the vehicle through which the inventor teaches his invention to society. This is one of the reasons why patents are published publicly, and are even available on Google.  Once a patent’s monopoly term expires, anyone in the society can take advantage of the invention.

This bargain is also why a patent application must be examined by the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) before the patent application can be approved as an issued patent. Among other things, CIPO searches the state of the art to ensure that the invention as taught is truly new and non-obvious – thus ensuring the integrity of the bargain.  This examination process is rigorous and patent applications typically require amendments before the CIPO is satisfied that the invention is new and non-obvious.

And that’s why a patent can cost thousands of dollars and take a few years to issue.

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