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Patents provide the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling your invention for a period of 20 years starting on the day that the patent application is filed. In exchange for this powerful right, you must provide a complete description of the invention sufficiently detailed to allow an individual skilled in the art to produce the invention.

A patent application is filed in one or more national Patent Offices, with one application for each country. There are treaties that facilitate filing in multiple countries, but no one patent can provide rights to more than one country.

Machines, methods, compositions of matter, manufactured items, and improvements to any of these things can be patented.

In order to qualify for a patent, the invention must be new, useful, and nonobvious. In other words, the invention must not be published or known to the public, it must be functional, and it must show any form of inventive ingenuity as viewed by a technician skilled in the area.

It is always a good idea to search before pursuing a patent application, as the primary hindrance to filing an application relates to conflict with existing knowledge. Good free databases to check are Google PatentsUS Patent OfficeEuropean Patent OfficeCanadian Patent OfficeWorld Intellectual Property Office.

The following cannot be patented: anything not included in the above list, mathematical formulas, arangements of text, scientific principles, mental processes, unaltered objects in nature.

Patents allow you to prevent competitors from copying, using, and selling your invention without permission. They further prevent others from patenting your invention and hindering your ability to use it.

They allow you to fully commercialize the invention and provide a basis for licenses or royalties. In the absence of intellectual property protection, competitors are free to copy the invention free of charge and are not obligated to pay for use of the idea.

Further, patents build the value of a company and increase the prestige of the company and its employees.

A ‘provisional’ patent application lasts exactly one year, is never published, does not require claims, and is much cheaper than a full patent application. It provides a basis for filing a subsequent patent application that claims priority from the provisional filing date, thus allowing applicants to spend one year and gain knowledge, evaluate marketability, and determine whether a full patent is necessary.

It should be noted, however, that there is a potential danger in not providing enough information in the provisional application. The specification must be sufficiently detailed to instruct someone skilled in the art to practice the invention.

Once a patent application has been submitted, applicants must “maintain” their application via payment of periodic payments to the Patent Office. Failure to do so will entail a loss of rights and abandonment of the patent, though many countries allow a short period of time to reinstate or pay late fees.

In most countries including Canada, these fees are due annually and commence from the filing date of the application.

In the United States, these fees are due 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years after the day the patent issues as a full enforceable patent.

A trade-mark is any word, symbol, design, or a combination thereof used to distinguish your wares or services from others. It is very different from a patent, which protects an new inventive idea or improvement.

In Canada, trade-marks can be renewed every 15 years provided that they are still in use.

Any company, individual, partnership, trade union, or lawful association may register a mark identifying their wares or services if they meet the requirements of the Trade-marks Act and Regulations.