How do you know if one of your business ideas is patentable?

- January 19, 2017

After the holiday break, your well-rested technical team comes up with a new idea that will revolutionize your company’s market! Now, you’re wondering, should I protect this intellectual property? Filing a patent application is often the best way to protect the results of your development activities. However, there are a number of criteria to consider beforehand because not everything is patentable!

A patent protects intellectual property, whether it is a chemical compound, product, method or software. It prevents third parties, your competitors, from copying your work and selling it as their own. It also provides the exclusive right to manufacture and sell your invention.

However, a patent is an agreement between your company and the government. A government, Canada, for example, gives you the right to prevent third parties from manufacturing, selling or using your invention. In exchange, you have to publish technical information on the new technology that you have developed to advance science in your field of activities.

A patentable invention must satisfy the following criteria:

Novelty – The invention to be patented must be the first of its kind in the world. Your organization must be the first one to use the technology it is presenting. This requirement implies very significant practical consequences.

On the one hand, you need to keep your invention a secret to the extent possible until you submit your patent application. In other words, you should file a patent application before talking about the invention to suppliers or business partners or disclosing it at a trade show for example. An invention that is disclosed before submitting a patent application becomes part of the “public domain”, In other words, anybody can use it, including your competitors, and your company can no longer benefit from patent protection.

On the other hand, if the innovative technology is partly disclosed or patented in Canada, you can only apply for a patent for the undisclosed portion.

Inventiveness – To be patentable in Canada, the invention must be a new development or an improvement of an existing technology that would not have been obvious to someone working in your area of specialty.

The inventiveness is assessed in connection with a set of documents in the same technical field as the invention. This assessment is undertaken from the point of view of a person skilled in the art to compare the invention and its technical advancement and determine whether or not the first derives naturally from the second.

Utility – The last criterion is the invention’s utility. Contrary to what you may think, the assessment is not based on the usual meaning of “useful”. The technology developed does not have to provide a benefit or meet a need or request. The technology must be something that works and does what it purports to do. This legal obligation is generally not a major issue for corporate inventions given their marketing objectives.

The Patent Act is complex. Accordingly, it is recommended that a patent agent registered with the Canadian Intellectual Property Office be contacted. The agent can assess the patentability of your various technologies.

Take a look at your SR&ED work during the year, for example, any related to technological uncertainty that leads to a technological advancement. It could very well lead to obtaining a patent!

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