The Difference Between Copyright and Patent

Patents refer to an invention, whereas copyrights refer to the expression of an idea, such as an artistic work. They are governed by different rules, so it is important to know which is applicable to your works.


Copyrights protect the expression of ideas. Artistic works are generally considered to be expressions of ideas – books, paintings, songs, movies, and computer programs are examples. Copyright will not protect the process through which a particular work was created or the use of information within it (instructions, etc.).

Cookbooks are often used to illustrate the difference between the expression of an idea and the idea itself. Cookbooks cannot be reproduced without permission because they are an expression of ideas (the recipes). However, people can still follow the recipes in the cookbook because they are replicating the ideas contained in the literary work. If the recipes were protected by a patent, users would need permission to follow them, since patents protect particular ideas from being used without authorization.

Components of copyright

Copyright contains moral rights and economic rights. Economic rights include the right to copy or publish a work or any substantial part of it. Moral rights include the right to the integrity of the work and the right to be listed as its author (though this is subject to certain limitations).

The author does not lose these rights when they allow their work to be copied or published. Moral rights can be waived, but they cannot be assigned to others.

Term of Copyright

Generally in Canada, copyright expires fifty years after the death of the author. However, there are certain exceptions. For example, with live performances and sound recordings, copyright expires fifty years after the initial performance under s. 23 (1) of the Copyright Act.

Registration of copyright

Copyright occurs automatically. However, registering your copyright with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office may make it easier to prove ownership in the event of a conflict. For more information, including the requirements for registration, visit the guide to copyrights on the Canadian Intellectual Property Office’s website here.


A patent is a right, granted by the government, to exclude others from making, using, or selling your invention. Patents protect inventions such as new processes, machines, or chemicals. The central idea is that patents protect ideas, not just expressions of them. The main effect of patents is to give their holders the right to challenge any use of the invention by a third party. He thereby gave a temporary monopoly of exploitation which can be understood as a financial incentive for inventive industrial activities.

Registering Patents

Patents must be registered. If you invent something and fail to register it, another person who independently invents or discovers your invention can patent it. There are 3 general requirements for patentability: (1) the invention must be novel, (2) it must be useful, and (3) it must show ingenuity (i.e. not be obvious). Patents expire for 20 years after the filing date, at which point they must be re-registered.

Patents registered in Canada only prevent the use of your patent within Canada. However, patents can also be registered internationally. For more information, visit the guide to patents on the Canadian Intellectual Property Office’s website here.