Automotive modifications and customizations have become increasingly popular as car enthusiasts seek to personalize and enhance the performance of their vehicles. While many modifications may seem straightforward, they require significant engineering and design expertise.
After putting in all the hard work, the last thing you want to see is other people reap the benefits. The good news is that you can get patent rights for your designs to ensure that only you get exclusive rights to reap the benefits of your labor, at least for some time.
This article explores the nuances of patenting automotive modifications and customizations, particularly relevant to Canadian IP laws.
Understanding Automotive Customization Modification
Car customization and modification are just as the name suggests; it involves changing a vehicle’s design, components, or appearance to increase its performance, aesthetics, or functionality.
For example, a car enthusiast may add new spoilers, exhausts, wheels, or even upgrade to a more powerful engine to make the vehicle more fitting to its intent. You can modify or customize your car yourself, but most people seek the help of specialized car modification specialists to get the best results.
It is essential to understand that not all modifications are legal, so you may want to consult with an expert before embarking on a modification to ensure you are legally compliant.
Types of Car Modification
There are as many types of car modification as there are parts. Some of the most commonly sought-after car modifications include engine upgrades and modifications, suspension modifications, body kits and aerodynamic modifications, interior changes, audio system upgrades, external modifications, and wheels.
If you are a client looking to modify your car, you may not have ownership of the outcomes of the modifications. But it is a different story for designers of the parts or components used to produce the outcomes.
Their designs and the outcomes they produce for their clients are excellent selling points, so they must be protected through patents.
Canadian law defines a patent as an exclusive right granted to an inventor or innovator by a government body to stop others from making, using, or selling their invention. Eligibility for patent registration requires that the subject matter meets certain criteria of novelty and inventiveness.
There are three categories of patents; utility, design, and plant. Plant patents were introduced to protect the invention or discovery of asexually reproduced plants, so they cannot be applied to the automotive industry.
Utility patents are the most common and apply to processes, machines, articles of manufacture, manufactured materials, and compositions of matter.
In the automotive modification and customization industry, utility patents are commonly sought for inventions such as customized car parts, custom designs for cars and other vehicles, or any car-related machine not already on the market.
For example, a company specializing in car electronics may seek a utility patent for a newly developed device that makes installing aftermarket car stereos easier.
Design patents are a type of patent that covers the design and look of an invention, not its function or structure. In the automotive modification and customization industry, design patents may be granted for inventions such as custom car body parts, interior designs, new exterior designs for cars and other vehicles, or any car-related design not already in the market.
In Canada, this type of patent is called an “industrial design right.” For example, a company specializing in 3D printing technology may seek a design patent for a newly developed car fender with a unique decorative pattern.
Where to Register Your Patents in Canada
The Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) is Canada’s constitutionally mandated body for IP registration. The agency offers three options for patent registration; online, mail, or in-person.
Fun fact, you do not have to file your application in English. French is also acceptable since it is recognized as Canada’s official language.
Patents registered under CIPO only offer protections within Canada. So if you are hoping to expand your reach outside Canada, you want to register your patent rights with an agency with a global reach like WIPO, a subsidiary of the UN that offers protection in over 190 countries signatories to the treaty.
Steps for Patenting Automotive Modifications and Customization in Canada
Registering utility and industrial design rights in Canada involves several steps. Firstly, an individual or company must file for a patent application with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO). This requires providing drawings of the invention or design and other relevant information.
After filling out the application, CIPO performs a formal examination of the application to establish if it meets the eligibility criteria. If it doesn’t, your application is rejected.
So it is important to conduct a patent or industrial design search on the CIPOs patent database to avoid the chances of an application being denied, which can result in unwarranted expenses.
Upon approval, a registrant will receive a registration certificate as proof of ownership. Typically patents run for 20 years from the date of filling an application, while industrial design rights run for 15 years.
The process of obtaining a patent in Canada can be complex and challenging. Therefore, seeking support from an experienced intellectual property lawyer or agent is highly recommended to ensure that all applicable forms are filled out correctly and to help navigate any potential challenges in obtaining patent protection. It is important to note that all ownership-related changes must be recorded with CIPO for continued validity once your patent is registered.
Enforcing Your Patent Rights
Securing exclusive rights to your innovations and designs is not the end of the story. You still need to police and enforce those rights because the registering body will not do that for you.
Policing your rights requires monitoring marketplaces to ensure no one is profiting from your inventions without authorization. The truth is monitoring the marketplace is easier said than done. The best approach is contracting a professional monitoring service specializing in intellectual property enforcement.
If you are aware of a case of infringement, the best cause of action would be to call your lawyer immediately so that you can commence investigations and look into the possibility of filing a lawsuit. Not all cases of patent infringement lawsuits end up in court. You can resolve the matter amicably, especially if the infringer cooperates and complies with your cease and desist orders.
If not, you have a right to go to court and let the court decide. If successful, you can recover compensation for damages resulting from the infringement.