CIPO defines industrial design as "features of shape, configuration, pattern or ornament - or any combination - applied to a finished article made by hand, tool, or machine." Prior to December 1, 2005 , anyone wishing to conduct a design search had to arrange for a manual search of the design microfilm archives of the CIPO offices in Hull , Quebec . Now, industrial designs are finally searchable on the CIPO website - the last form of Canadian Intellectual Property to be digitized and made public
Unfortunately, CIPO's first phase of the Canadian Industrial Design Database only contains industrial designs registered as of June 15, 2002 - about 10,000 designs. New registrations are to be added weekly, and the back file will be converted sometime in the Spring of 2006.
In order to conduct a comprehensive Canadian infringement search, the most recent ten years of CIPO design data would have to be retrievable in CIPO's new design database - as ten years is currently the life of a Canadian Design Registration. It is also important to bear in mind that there are decades of expired CIPO design data still in the archives which could be relevant when doing searches for registrability. Another important fact is that the ownership and assignment data should be manually checked when performing due diligence work, since reassignments do not appear to be recorded on the Canadian Industrial Designs Database.
In total, there are not a lot of design registrations (about 100,000 to date) possibly reflecting the fact that few Canadians are aware that they can protect the appearance or ornamentation of a product by an inexpensive design registration. Canadians file roughly only a quarter of the registrations in a given year. In 2001 the numbers slipped even more: Canadians registered 479 out of a total of 2845 industrial designs.
A person searching CIPO's design database is immediately confronted by the same problem of design searches conducted in other jurisdictions - the only descriptive text is the title, which in many cases is brief, or reduced to one word - "Chair" or "Bottle" or "Toy". The usual method of searching designs is to ferret out the relevant design classifications, and then proceed to view hundreds of images one after the other to find a visual match. However, the Canadian Industrial Designs Database does offer a searchable field for "Classification Text" to assist in locating relevant classifications.
For instance if you want to see smoker's accessories you may enter the truncated term "Smoker*" into the classification text field to find some sample designs and pick up the general classification 098, SMOKERS ACCESSORIES AND EQUIPMENT. Bongs are classified under subclass 098-02 "Smoker's Pipes", for example. The Canadian Design Classification is available to browse at the bottom of the menu page.
Following the examples of the UK and Australian design databases, CIPO's design search results are presented in handy "thumbnails" format, nine to a page for quick scanning. Titles are searchable, but as in the CIPO patent database, there are French only records. If you are searching for snow shovels, one could appear as a "Pelle a Neige".
One sad element is that CIPO used its own homebrewed Canadian Industrial Design Classification rather than the International Locarno system. Canada is not one of the 45 nations who are signatories to the Locarno Agreement, administered by WIPO.
The beauty of the Locarno system is that when a searcher has discovered the best design codes to use for a search, it is possible to search most of the available design databases in the world using the same codes. Mayall's IP Links at www.mayallj.freeserve.co.uk/design.htm or the British Library site at www.bl.uk/collections/patents/deslinks.html lists the free design databases available on the Internet. Note that the USPTO integrated their design patent file into their utility patent file, searchable at www.uspto.gov . The USPTO has its own design classification, but provides a concordance to the Locarno system.
The rules, regulations, and subject matter of coverage for design registrations vary by jurisdiction. In most industrialized countries, design registration functions as protection for easily pirated but expensive products such as automobile body parts or furniture. In Canada most designs seem to involve beverage containers.
The Google search engine may eventually provide the final answer for the searcher of registered designs. Apparently the Google Corporation is working on algorithms for image matching so that any given image could be matched against millions of others on the Internet. If they manage to do it, it would be a major boon to both patent and industrial design researchers.