(I am not a lawyer, the following is not legal advice.)
Recently on the OpenType mailing list, the topic of legal restrictions on type designs and font programs came up again; someone said that there is an "absence of protection for the shapes" and in my humble opinion this is an old chestnut :-)
There is certainly no absence of restriction for the shapes! :-)
Typeface designs are subject to "design patent" restrictions in the USA, not copyright restrictions, because the US government understands them to be functional works rather than artistic ones. These patents are not granted automatically like copyright now is, but must be registered (like a 'regular' "utility patent") and run for 14 years.
In the UK the shapes are subject to "design rights" which can work like copyright in that they are granted automatically, and like patents in that they can be registered. The unregistered term is 5
years but a type designer can register their designs for periods of 5 years up to 5 times. There are also EU Design Rights (cf the Microsoft/Linotype spat over Segoe/Frutiger) which work similarly across the EU.
So the term of restriction in the UK and EU is 5 years automatically and up to 25 years, and 14 in the USA.
But I don't know about other countries (eg, Canada) but I hope this post is enough to get people interested to find out what the deal is in your country, and post your findings here if you turn anything up - or if you think I'm mistaken :-)