An Engineer's Guide to Intellectual Property Laws In 2023

An engineer's job description involves a great deal of creating things based on the knowledge learned in school and the course of their career. These creations qualify as creations of the mind which is the very definition of intellectual property and thus protectable under IP laws. 

So, understanding your rights as an engineer is critical to your profitability. This guide highlights types of intellectual property that have a huge significance to an engineer, such as patent, industrial design, trademark, copyright, and trade secret protections.

If you are venturing into a career as an engineer or have been in it but never paid attention to your IP rights, this will be an excellent read for you.

Understanding IP Laws

IP laws are designed to protect creations of the mind, also called intellectual property. The reasoning behind creating IP laws is to grant innovators and creators exclusive rights to their work, allowing them to commercialize and profit from them. 

An Engineer's Guide to Intellectual Property Laws In 2023

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Also, the law creates avenues for rights holders to hold violators of their rights accountable for their actions, for example, by seeking compensation for damages suffered from their violation. Below is a breakdown of the important IP you need to know as an engineer. If you have intellectual property law questions, an expert Canadian IP attorney from Heer Law will gladly answer your questions and help you navigate a problem if you have one.


Patents are arguably the most important type of IP protection for engineers. Patents cover new innovations in the engineering industry , including construction methods, materials, building processes, new fuel technologies, new engines, etc. 

For an idea to qualify for patenting, it must meet the eligibility criteria. First, the idea must be novel, meaning it must be new in the world and never be revealed at any place before the date of filing for registration. The idea must also be practical for two other engineers in the same field. 

Lastly, the patent applicant must provide the registering entity with detailed information about the idea so that another person skilled in the trade can replicate the idea following the information provided. The government holds this information in confidentiality until the expiry of the patent protection period, which is 20 years from the filing date for registration.

Industrial Design Protections

Industrial design protection, also known as design patterns in some countries, is a form of patent protection covering a product's nonfunctional aspect. In other words, it covers a product's ornamental or aesthetic aspects, such as shape, ornamentation, texture, feel, etc. 

For a design to qualify for industrial design protection under Canadian intellectual property law, the design must be new and not closely resemble an existing one, must apply to a specific product, and has to be nonfunctional in the sense that it doesn't affect the performance and efficiency of a product in any way. 

Industrial design protections can apply to creations like car design, building design, interior design, and décor and are enforceable for 15 years from the filing date for registration. 

Trademark Protections

A trademark is a word, symbol, logo, slogan, hashtag, or combination of any distinguishing goods and services in the market. As an engineer, your work may not be so much about selling products but for other services, in which case trademarking your name and your business name and brand becomes critical for marketing purposes and building brand reputation. 

Trademarks can apply on a first-to-use basis, meaning you can claim ownership of a trademark even if it's not registered; however, proving ownership can be challenging. The best practice is to register your trademarks with the relevant authority. 

Upon successful registration, trademark protections run for ten years from the registration date. However, the term is renewable upon payment of a service fee, allowing businesses and individuals to claim ownership of a trademark indefinitely.

Copyright Protections

Copyright protections apply to creative work such as pictures, art, text, music, and video. Engineering involves creating some designs from scratch, so you need to make sketches called draw plans as the foundation of your creations. Those sketches and plans are protected under intellectual property law. 

In most countries, including Canada , the author of creative work owns its copyright by default unless they expressly transfer them to their clients. Therefore it's important to ensure that the terms of your contract are clear to avoid IP rights conflict with clients. 

Copyright protections last for the author's lifetime and 70 years after death. If more than one author was involved, the 70 years starts running after the death of the last surviving author. If a business owns the copyright, it lasts 95 years from publication or 120 years from the date of creation, whichever is shorter.

Trade Secrets

Trade secrets are, just as the name suggests, confidential information that gives a business a competitive edge in the market. A trade secret for engineers can include the formula for creating a specific building material, processes involved, or business plans. 

An entity does not need to register trade secrets to make them enforceable. However, doing so makes proving that information is a protected trade secret easier. Under the law, a trade secret can only be recognized as enforceable if the right holder makes reasonable efforts at protecting it, for example, by limiting access to good information, having employees sign non-disclosure agreements, and using passwords in encryption to secure the information. Also, trade secret protections run indefinitely if the rights holder keeps it confidential. 

Significance of IP Registration

IP laws guarantee a person or entity's right to profit from their creation through exclusivity. For example, patent rights give the rights holder the exclusive right to sell their innovation, allowing them to set the prices for their innovation without fearing being undercut. Where the demand exceeds demand, they can sell rights to other entities expanding their income streams. So if for no other reason, the money factor should motivate you to secure your rights.

The assurance of profit-making from inventions and creations has been critical in spurring innovation. Investors want to be sure they get value for money, and the only way of getting assurances is guaranteed exclusivity to profit from inventions and creations. Some experts feel that IP laws, in a way, hinder innovations because it prevents others from building upon what has been already created, but the gains achieved through the laws outway the drawbacks by far.