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How to get a patent: What you need to know to get started

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Just like filing a tax return, you can file a patent application without hiring a professional. There are numerous books on the subject and you can find guidelines and all the forms you need at the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) website.

On the other hand, you may decide you'd need professional help. After all, as in hiring an accountant for your taxes, you can save time and benefit from the patent agent's expertise and insight in the field. You'll find a list of registered patent lawyers and agents on the CIPO website.

What can be patented?

Before investing time and money in patent protection, it’s important to investigate if your invention is patentable. A patentable product or service may be:

  • A product, e.g., a door lock
  • A composition, e.g., a chemical composition used in lubricants for door locks
  • An apparatus, e.g., a machine for making door locks
  • A process, e.g., a method for making door locks
  • An inventive improvement to any of these

It’s important to note that 90% of all patents today are actually improvement to existing inventions.

20 years of protection

Patents provide inventors with the sole and exclusive rights to use, make and sell the invention in the country where it has been issued. In Canada, the protection lasts up to 20 years starting from the date the patent application is filed.

However, not every new gizmo or chemical is worthy of patent status. Canada's Patent Act requires three things: Ingenuity, utility and novelty. In simpler terms, in order to qualify for patent protection your invention must be new, useful and not obvious to someone skilled in the relevant field.

And take note: Just because you have never seen anything like your invention does not mean the patent is yours to claim. There are plenty of things that are patented but not on the market.

A patent search

To find out if your idea is unique, you need to do a patent search. Canadian inventions are usually investigated with the U.S. and Canadian patent offices. If, after the search, your creation appears to be original, it's time to submit your formal application. The patent office will then do its own, more thorough, investigation.

The patent investigation process can take up to two years. If your patent is issued, you get proprietary rights to your design for 20 years. If your patent application is rejected—and you're convinced it shouldn't have been—you can appeal the decision.

Assistance is available

Depending of your project development status, you may want to contact The National Research Council (NRC). NRC is the Government of Canada's premier organization for research and development. Specifically, you can contact the Concierge program, where industry experts provide free one-on-one assistance to businesses. You may also wish to contact CIPO’s Client Service Centre or a CIPO regional Business Development Officer.

A patent can be a powerful tool that acts as a high barrier to entry against competitors. Knowing how to benefit from patent protected innovations can result in significant competitive advantage and long term value for your business.

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