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A patent is a right granted by a country to the inventor to prevent anyone else from making, using or selling the inventor’s invention. Inventions can take the form of specific devices (e.g. widgets) chemical compositions (e.g. composition of matter), processes or specific uses of things.

To be patentable, an invention must satisfy three criteria:

  • novel—must be completely unknown in the public domain prior to patent application approval.
  • non-obvious—must be non-obvious to someone skilled in the art.
  • useful—relates to the ability of the invention to theoretically do something, in contrast to an abstract concept.

Additional information about patents:

  • Must be applied for in each country separately and patent rights only extend to the area where a patent is granted (e.g. a U.S. patent does not give the inventor the right to stop the invention's unauthorized use in Canada).
  • Can be expensive, as it not only involves filing fees from the local patent office, but the fee to have a patent attorney write a defendable application.
  • No guarantee that a patent will be granted.
  • Applications are published about 18 months after filing and generally are in effect for about 17 years after issue.
  • Due to the cost of patenting and the public disclosure of an invention, the choice of a patent as protection for the basis of a business depends on the anticipated value of the invention and its length of life in the market. A high value (multimillion dollars in annual sales), but short-lived product is most appropriate for patent protection.

Online resources available for searching through published patents and patent applications, include: