Frequently Asked Startup Questions


We love meeting with entrepreneurs, their passion, energy and guts are inspiring. Entrepreneurs starting a new business usually have a million questions, lots of uncertainty, and usually no money to pay the many bills that arise before ‘going live’. Here are some answers to questions I get regarding IP questions for start-ups.

“Do I need a trade-mark registration before I launch my product or services”?

As soon as you start using your trade-mark in association with services or goods, and those goods are available to the public (not just samples or mugs and t-shirts for your friends) you gain common law rights automatically.  Those rights only go so far as your reputation extends, so it is wise to register as soon as you can afford to (typical costs are $2,000-$3,000 CDN), which gives you better rights and rights across Canada.  You should be recording all your uses of the mark pre-registration, as this is vital for your trade-mark agent when you do register, and in case you need to deal with conflicting claims to the mark.  You should also be using the TM notation beside your mark.

“How do I choose a strong trade-mark”?

I often wish a client had consulted me before they sunk lots of money and time into an unprotectable trade-mark.   See my article here explaining how to choose a strong trade-mark.

“Should I patent my product or business idea”?

You might, if you have an invention that is new and have never been disclosed anywhere in the world.  Some software and business models may be registerable in Canada, though these are exceptional – the case law is changing, since the Amazon “one-click” patent case found that Amazon’s method of online sales was patentable subject matter.  There is significant cost and effort involved in registering a patent.  You should speak to a patent agent/lawyer before disclosing your idea/invention or you could lose your rights after one year.  This includes disclosure on the internet!

Alternatively, you may be able to gain the same protection through trade-secret law.  Speak to a lawyer about drafting a non-disclosure agreement if you want this kind of protection.

“I’m overloaded with launching my business. Why spend time and money on intellectual property now”? 

Let’s face it, few companies in North America make widgets these days.  Most companies are knowledge-based and service businesses, who make money based on their reputation, goodwill and company know-how.  The value of your business will be your intellectual property; the extent to which you can monetize this IP, for raising capital and potentially franchising or selling your business down the road, will depend to the extent to which you can point to steps taken to secure your reputation, goodwill and company know-how.