Recently I met a very focused inventor looking to get a patent on his idea. After our conversation I thought perhaps there are a few more potential inventors that could benefit from what we discussed. Let’s start by looking at things through the eyes of the Patent office. Basically the Patent Office will only award a patent for a ‘solution to a problem’. Therefore the first thing I strongly recommend is you determine what the problem is and why your idea is a solution. This is more than just a test for a patent, it is basic sales 101. The objective for most people is to make money from their ideas in whatever form that takes. If your great idea doesn’t solve a real problem chances are it doesn’t have the kind of value you are hoping for. (For a detailed explanation on what exactly a patent is check out the Canadian Intellectual Property Office explanation here.)
Patents can be very costly and are not the only way to protect intellectual property. It’s very important to do the research first. Basically the Patent Office will apply three tests to your application to determine whether or not you will receive a patent. First is the solution to the problem new? There must be no other patents that suggest the same solution to the same problem. This is where the research is important. You can start by searching for Canadian patents on the Canadian Intellectual Property Website. I would also suggest searching on the United States Patent and Trademark Office website as well as Google Patents.
Next the Patent Office will determine if the solution is useful. This means the problem must be clearly identified in the patent application as well as how your solution solves that problem. Finally the solution must not be obvious. This is a little trickier to explain and adds a level of complexity to the process. (I suspect this is the reason over 90% of patent applications use a registered patent agent.) If teachings from 2 or more patents can be combined to arrive at your solution then it would be obvious. That being said inventions do not occur in a vacuum and there is always some background of previous patents (referred to as prior art). Most patents are granted for incremental improvements.
As always things are never as simple as they seem and often expert advice is needed. GPRC’s Centre for Research & Innovation has partnered with the firm of Thompson Woodruff Intellectual Property Law to assist inventors in our region. I encourage you to check out their web site as it contains some great information.