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What Can You Patent?

There are three factors of patentability:

  1. Novelty: You must be the inventor or have been assigned by the inventor, and the item must be the first of its kind.
  2. Utility: The item must be functional and operable. You will not receive a patent if the invention does not work or has no useful function.
  3. Ingenuity: The item must not be obvious to someone knowledgeable in the field to which your invention belongs. Consider this the "Wow!" factor. Or, as the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) puts it, the "Why-didn't-I-think-of-that?" phenomenon.

When considering whether to patent an invention, you need to ask yourself whether your idea can realistically be made, and if your new process produces something tangible or commercial. You cannot patent scientific principles, abstract theorems, ideas, methods for doing business, computer programs, or methods of medical treatment.

You may obtain a patent for improvements to an existing patented invention. Be careful, however; the original patent may still be in force. Manufacturing or selling the product with your improvements would likely constitute a violation.

Patents and Other Intellectual Property Rights

People sometimes confuse patents with trademarks, copyrights, industrial designs, or integrated circuit topographies. These, too, are rights granted for intellectual creativity and are forms of intellectual property.

  • Trademarks are words, symbols and designs (alone or in combination) that are used to distinguish the products or services of one person or organization from those of another.
  • Copyright protects literary, artistic, dramatic or musical works, computer programs and the subject areas known as "performance," "sound recording" and "communication signal."
  • Industrial designs include the visual features of shape, configuration, pattern and ornament (alone or in combination) that are applied to a finished item of manufacture.
  • Integrated circuit topographies are three-dimensional configurations of electronic circuits, embodied in integrated circuit products or layout designs.