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An introduction to patents: what they are, the benefits of including them in your research, where and how to search for them, and the patent application process

What is a Patent?

patent is a document issued by a national government. It grants an inventor the right to prevent anyone else from making, using or selling their invention without permission. In most countries, the right lasts twenty years. 

In exchange, the inventor must provide a detailed description of the invention. This allows others to benefit from knowledge about current technologies, while maintaining the inventors' right to profit from it. 

A Canadian patent only grants rights within Canada. Inventors who wish to extend their rights to other countries must apply for patents in those countries (however, there is a streamlined process for this; see the International Patent Cooperation Treaty section). A group of patents from different countries, protecting a single invention, is called a patent family

Types of Patents

A patentable invention may be:

  • a product
  • an apparatus (for example, a machine that makes the product)
  • a process (for example, the method by which a product is made)
  • a compound (for example, a chemical compound)
  • an improvement on any of the above


There are three types of patents:

  • utility patents
  • design patents
  • plant patents


You can learn more about the difference between utility and design patents by watching the video below.

Patent Criteria

How do you determine if an invention is eligible for a patent?

According to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO), a patentable invention must be:

  1. New: It must be the first invention of its kind in the world, and it must not have been published in the past. 
  2. Useful: The invention must be functional and operative. 
  3. Non-obvious: The invention must display inventive ingenuity and must not be obvious to someone skilled in the area.


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