Successful businesses are built on inventive ideas. Patenting an innovative idea can help secure the future of your business. This is because patents protect you and your business from competitors making, using or selling your idea, for up to 20 years.
There is no better way to boost the profitability of an idea or invention than by restricting your competition – often, investors think so too. Patenting your idea helps attract investors because it provides confidence in the proprietary nature of your business, ensures others can’t copy you, and therefore increases the potential return on investment.
Let’s walk through the process of thinking of a patentable idea, refining it through research and then patenting the idea. Patenting an idea in Canada is very similar to the patent process in other countries, but there are few special Canada-specific considerations that will be mentioned along the way.
1. Collect Your Ideas
The Light Bulb Moment
Contrary to popular belief, the patent process doesn’t start when you engage a patent agent or submit a patent application. The process begins before you even have the light bulb moment of a new innovative idea.
Often, patentable ideas are birthed out of acknowledging problems in existing products or processes. As you work on your business, keep an eye out for technical problems with your products or customer experience. When you hear others labeling issues as ‘impossible’ or saying something ‘could never work’ – question these assumptions. If you can find non-obvious solutions to challenging issues, these are potentially patentable ideas.
For an idea to be considered ‘patentable’ in Canada it needs to meet the following criteria:
Keep A List of Ideas
To keep from forgetting or overlooking potentially patentable ideas, keep a list of all of them. This list can be in a hard copy in a notebook, a document on your computer or even a list in an app on your phone. Writing down ideas offers many benefits whether it be working towards a patentable idea or innovating to boost your business. Research shows that writing things down helps you think bigger and remember more.
Keep It Confidential
Be careful about brainstorming your ideas with people outside of your company. A general rule is never brainstorm ideas with anyone who you would not want to be listed as a co–inventor with you on a patent. A patent needs an inventor to own it so avoid inadvertently turning a customer or competitor into a co-inventor by brainstorming with them.
2. Refine Your Best Ideas
Keep Keeping It Confidential
As you develop and refine your ideas keep them confidential. Most countries don’t issue patents if the idea has been made available to the public before the patent application. Luckily, the patent process in Canada is a little different. Canadian patent law operates on a first-to-file system and an idea must be considered new or novel on the date of application. However, Canada has a one-year grace period for public disclosures (oral, written, or any other form). Meaning, you can still patent your idea, so long as you submit the Canadian patent application within the year (from the earliest you made your idea or invention available to the public). Remember, offers for sale can count as making it available, even if no one took you up on the offer.
Prevent ‘Design Arounds’
When you have narrowed down your ideas to the most novel, usable and inventive solutions to existing issues, flesh out these ideas. Think through each idea and consider other potential ways of accomplishing the same thing. Brainstorm a list of things about your idea that you think someone else might change if they wanted to avoid infringing your patent. By taking this into consideration in advance, when you are in the process of drafting your patent you can do it in such a way as to prevent these ‘design arounds’.
3. Evaluate Your Ideas
Confirm the Utility of Your Idea
To further narrow down your ideas to the most patentable concept, consider how patenting each idea would assist or benefit your company. When you’re confident in the potential advantage of your idea, spend some time poking around on the various free patent searching databases such Google™ patents. See if you can find similar things patented and invented by other people.
Confirm the Novelty of Your Idea
If in your database research you find the exact same idea has already be done by someone else (anywhere in the world), you cannot re-patent it in Canada. Your invention must be unique worldwide – even if you are planning on only patenting it in Canada. However, if you find similar items anywhere in the world but there are still differences that you think may be patentable, make note of these differences to discuss with your patent agent.
4. Find A Registered Patent Agent to Help
Make Sure Your Agent is Qualified
In Canada, only a registered patent agent can represent you at the patent office. Patent lawyers are not always registered patent agents so make sure you ask if you call someone only advertising as a patent lawyer. (ATMAC is a registered patent agent firm and you will be working directly with a registered patent agent who will be involved in all aspects of your patent application from start through finish.)
Differences Between US & Canadian Application Process
You may have read that filing a “provisional” patent application is the first step in the patent application process in the United States. In Canada, there is no designation of a patent application as provisional – all patent applications are official. However, in Canada, you can file an application without requesting examination. In some ways this can be better than a US provisional:
- US provisional patent applications only last one year before they expire. However, a patent application filed in Canada lasts for up to five years and maintenance fees don’t start until the second year. So, a Canadian application will last longer than a US provisional without any further costs.
- Since, in Canada, all applications are official you don’t need to refile it later. Whereas, a US provisional needs to be refiled after one year as a non-provisional application to preserve rights.
- Further, you can include as many claims and multi-dependent claims in Canada at no extra government fee. So, it can be cheaper to file lots of claims in Canada than to do so in the US.
Patenting an idea is profitable and at least the high-level steps are not nearly as complicated as you might have been led to believe. Notice gaps or inefficiencies, write down your ideas and continually vet them to ensure they are novel, of use and inventive. Once you’re ready to proceed, find a qualified patent agent to draft the application and represent you at the patent office. Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to securing a patent on your idea.
Want more information on the patent application process or want to talk to a registered patent agent?