Category Archives: Intellectual Property

Expedited Trademark Examinations in Canada

The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) recently announced that it will be accepting requests for expedited examination of trademark applications along with other measures to speed up the trademark registration process in Canada. Before the recent announcements, CIPO took approximately 24-30 months to issue an examiner’s report (also called an office action). The new measures are expected to greatly reduce delays in Canada. 

Expedited examinations may be requested by an applicant if one of the following conditions are met:

  1. a court action is expected or underway in Canada with respect to the applicant’s trademark in association with the goods or services listed in the application.
  2. the applicant is in the process of combating counterfeit products at the Canadian border with respect to the applicant’s trademark in association with the goods or services listed in the application;
  3. the applicant requires registration of its trademark in order to protect its intellectual property rights from being severely disadvantaged on online marketplaces; or
  4. the applicant requires registration of its trademark in order to preserve its claim to priority within a defined deadline and following a request by a foreign intellectual property office.

Other measures to reduce delays in trademark registration include:

  1. examiners providing fewer examples of goods and services that would be considered acceptable in examiner’s reports;
  2. faster examinations of applications with goods and services from CIPO’s pre-approved list of goods and services; and
  3. reduced number of examiner’s reports for each application and issuance of refusals in a timely manner. 

If you have a pending trademark application that has yet to be approved and you believe you meet one of the four conditions above, you may wish to request expedited examination for your application. If a request for expedited examination is accepted, the application will be examined as soon as possible. 

Please reach out to a member of Voyer Law’s IP team if you would like to request expedited examination for your trademark application.

Intellectual Property Rights for Video Game Studios

For our video game clients, protecting intellectual property is an important part of their business.   Intellectual property protection for a video game commonly comes in the form of trademark and copyright but may also involve patents and trade secrets

Trademarks can protect the titles and logos associated with a game.  Without a registered trademark, another studio could register a trademark that is confusingly similar to your existing game, thereby creating confusion, negatively impacting your ability to enforce trademark rights and potentially the complete loss of all trademark rights.

Copyright can protect game code, artwork, music and characters.  A copyright registration could be obtained on a particular character used in a game to prevent third parties from creating and selling plush toys based on the character.  

Patents can protect new and innovative hardware, systems, technical solutions, innovative game play or design elements and technical innovations such as networking or database design.  

Trade secrets can protect customer mailing lists, pricing information, publisher contracts, developer contracts, in-house development tools, and terms and conditions of any agreement the studio enters into.  Note that the enforcement of a trade secrets requires that a confidentiality agreement be put in place.

The following chart provides a helpful overview of intellectual property protection options:

Copyright  ProtectsTrademark ProtectsPatent ProtectsTrade Secret Protects
MusicStudio nameHardware systemsCustomer mailing lists
CodeStudio logoInventive game playPricing information
StoryGame titleTechnical innovations such as new software, networking or database designsPublishing contacts
Characters  Middleware contacts
Art  Developer contacts
Box design  In-house development tools
Website design  Deal terms

We recommend that studios become familiar with the range of intellectual property protections available and to prepare an intellectual property strategy for both the studio and its games.  

Real World Items in Games

When creating realistic video games, developers often desire to render real-world items digitally but neglect considering rights held in these items.  A failure to investigate rights held in real-world items is not limited to smaller studios as major developers (ex. Activision) have been sued for using real-world items in their games, such as AM General’s Hummer and certain firearms.   To assist in avoiding these issues, consider the following steps when inserting real-world items into your game:

  1.  Check to see if the item you are adding to the game is based on a real-world item.  For example, modes of transportation, firearms and luxury goods in games could all be based off a real-world item.
  2. When purchasing assets from marketplaces be sure to ensure that the asset creator has not  infringed the rights of third parties.  This has been an issue on the UE marketplace leading to an audit of most firearm asset packages.
  3. If your item is based on a real-world item, determine the rights held in that item.  For example, the design could be covered by a design patent while the name or logo could be trademarked.
  4. If there are rights held in the item be sure to secure a license from the rights holder before proceeding, otherwise you risk litigation and will be running afoul of most representations and warranties contained in publishing and platform agreements you sign.

In many cases, it’s cheaper to design your own items rather than seeking a license for real-world items, which may not be granted.  Take the GTA series and its use of cars of its own design – it’s doubtful that an automaker would license their rights to a game in which the same car is used to commit (digital) criminal offences, including murder.

If you are in doubt whether the particular item or its name is protected, be sure to contact your legal counsel before spending time integrating it into your game.

NDA Pitfalls

Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs) are a critical part of a technology company’s legal arsenal but are often relegated to a standard template without much thought.  Too often, I’ve seen NDAs sent by sophisticated companies that contain a number of pitfalls that often negate some of the protections that NDAs are relied upon for.  While there are numerous pitfalls to be watched for when drafting and reviewing NDAs, I wanted to highlight a few pitfalls that I frequently encounter that are often missed by both disclosing and receiving parties:

1.  Duration

While it may seem obvious it bears repeating: the duration of a NDA matters.  Often the NDAs I receive specify a relatively brief duration: usually between 2 and 5 years.  Problematically, after the time-period expires the protections provided by the NDA lapse and the previously confidential information can be disclosed at will.  While you may not believe that confidential information would be valuable 5 years into the future, this could be a costly assumption – image if the Coca-Cola recipe was treated the same?

NDAs should specify a perpetual duration unless you have a specific reason for limiting the duration.  Regardless, if the NDA duration has a limit you should be very careful to disclose only information that you’re comfortable becoming public information in the future.

2.  Who Can be Disclosed to

I often encounter NDAs that classify the NDA itself as confidential information that can only be disclosed with permission from the other party.  While seemingly innocuous, this treatment of the NDA can become a massive headache when it comes time to sell your company or its technology.  For example, you could be prohibited from disclosing the mere existence of the NDA to the purchaser or its legal counsel.

NDAs should permit disclosure of the NDA itself to your professional service providers, third parties proposing to engage in transactions with your company and their professional service providers.

3.  Scope of Protection

Do not neglect the scope of the NDA’s protection.  Obviously the NDA should protect information physically disclosed or spoken to the other party but there may be certain things disclosed to the other party that don’t fall within the typical scope of “information”.  For example, you may want the NDA to protect things that are visually perceived by the other party when on-site or sounds heard by the other party (this could matter if the sound of a machine could be used to determine a key design feature).

Always consider what you are disclosing under the NDA and be sure that the scope of the NDA’s protection matches the scope of disclosure as well as inadvertent, passive, disclosures that may take place.

Ultimately, the pitfalls with a NDA, as with any legal document, originate from the treatment of the NDA as a standard templated agreement.  The NDA is a powerful document that should be carefully crafted to reflect your particular business needs and to avoid the above pitfalls.