Recently I have helped clients whose innovations spanned the awkward region between decorative and functional. Finding a way to help those clients protect their intellectual property has been a recent obsession.
Utility Patents (US), or Patents (Canada and elsewhere) are concerned with functional innovation. Looks aren’t important. The term for these types of patents is generally 20 years from filing date.
Designs, or industrial designs (Canada), registered community designs (EU) share the requirement for novelty in appearance. The duration of these three jurisdictions vary widely, however. Canada offers only ten years of protection subject to maintenance fee, the US offers 14 years, and the EU offers 25 years.
It is true that the scope of protection offered by design patents is narrower than a regular patent, but in some cases it is enough. Also, if you have a small budget, design patents are much less expensive to prepare.
Another option for innovators who have designed a label or packaging falls in the TRADEMARK category of intellectual protection. Functionality is strictly prohibited for trademarks in Canada, but the term of protection extends as long as your trademark is in use (helped by keeping your registration maintained).