Protecting your startup from intellectual property infringement: Free online searches

Do not invest too much time or money on a startup until you have determined that your product or service does not infringe on someone else’s intellectual property. Reduce your chances of an intellectual property dispute by conducting your own free online searches for patents, copyright or trademarks.

Simply assuming that you are in the clear and proceeding without proper due diligence (i.e., investigation) could land you in court. Ignorance of an issued patent, registered trademark or copyright is not a complete defence and will only, at best, reduce the damages awarded against you. To protect your startup, begin your research with free online searches.

Step 1: Use a search engine to search names for your company, services and wares

Before you decide on a name for your company, product or service, search for it online. The search results will raise red flags for you if it is:

  • Already in use by a competitor
  • Associated with a non-competing product with which you’d rather not have an association

It is also useful at this stage to search for products or services that are similar to yours. This offers a great way to map out your competitors, and, more importantly, to discover if your invention already exists in the marketplace or was publicly disclosed. These searches will assist you in avoiding intellectual property infringement.

Step 2: Check for registered trademarks online

To search the online Canadian trademarks database, go to the homepage of the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) and click on “Trade-marks Database” on the left-hand side of the screen.The site leads you through your search options.

When you run a search on the CIPO website, you will receive a certain number of results. Each result can then be selected to pull up more information.

Searching for US and international trademarks

To search the online US trademarks database, go to the homepage of the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). Under the middle column called “Trademarks,” click on “Search Marks.”
To search international marks recorded under the Madrid system that are currently in force in the International Register or have expired within the past six months, use the ROMARIN (Read-Only-Memory of Madrid Active Registry INformation) database.

Step 3: Check for patents

It is very important that you do a patent search prior to starting production or importation. Current, expired and even rejected patents are all relevant to your business.

Try using terms and phrases that would probably be found in the claims of your own patent. A lawyer or patent agent can be useful at this stage for searching and construing the claims of prior art.
The following resources are available to assist in your search:

  • The Canadian patents database is available online. Visit CIPO’s homepage and click on “Patents Database” on the left-hand side of the screen.
  • The US patents database is available online. Visit USPTO’s homepage, and under the left-hand column called “Patents,” click on “Search.” For a more detailed search, consider using the Patent Application Information Retrieval (PAIR) database.
  • Google patents is a significant free resource and enables anyone familiar with Google searches to look for US patents.
  • The World Intellectual Property Organization’s PATENTSCOPE database allows you to search close to two million published international patent applications (PCT) and more than 7.5 million documents (including patent documents from Regional and National collections).
  • Operated by the European Patent Office, one of the most comprehensive free databases is Espacenet. It offers access to more than 70 million patent documents worldwide and contains information on inventions and technical developments dating back to 1836. A useful feature of Espacenet is its ability to search in English, French and German.

Step 4:  Check for copyright

Always assume that data compilations, a literary work (which includes software), and dramatic, visual (for example, photographs, graphics, movies), or musical works are copyrighted. Copyright in Canada is automatically created.

To be protected in Canada the work does not need to be marked with a notice of copyright (usually the © symbol). Generally, the copyright exists for the life of the author plus another 50 years following their death.

While it is often very difficult to check the status of copyright some good starting points include:

Note: The content in this article is for purposes of general information only. It is not legal advice.


Canadian Intellectual Property Office. (2011, April 27). Retrieved May 3, 2011, from
United States Patent and Trademark Office. (2011, April 27). Retrieved May 3, 2011, from
United States Patent and Trademark Office. Patent Application Information Retrieval. Retrieved May 3, 2011, from
World Intellectual Property Organization. (n.d.) PATENTSCOPE. Retrieved May 30, 2011, from
European Patent Office. (2011, March 24.) Espacenet. Retrieved May 30, 2011, from


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