Should you patent your idea?

Thomas Edison was one of the most prolific inventors in history. He’s widely recognized for inventing the light bulb, but contrary to popular belief he actually improved a 50 year old idea, making electric lighting practical for home use.  His other inventions include the phonograph, electrographic vote recorder and first motion picture camera.

Edison held 1,093 patents in the U.S. for his inventions. 

Patents provide important legal protection for your new invention or design, ensuring you the commercial rights, and stopping others from exploiting your research and hard work.

In this three-part blog series based on a guide from the Canadian Intellectual Property Office, we’re going to look at:

  • What patents are and which inventions qualify
  • How you can compare your invention or design with those already patented
  • What steps you need to take to legally protect your own invention or design

What is a patent?

Under Canadian law, a patent provides an inventor with 20 years legal protection over their new technology, preventing others from making, using or selling their invention.

Which inventions qualify?

To patent an invention, it must satisfy three conditions:

  • New: The invention must be new, a first in the world.  Having said that, 90% of patents filed are for new improvements on existing inventions.
  • Useful: The technology must be functional, operative and of use to the end user
  • Inventive: The invention must show a high level of skill and technicality

So what exactly can be patented?

There are four key types of inventions that can receive a patent.  Let’s use the example of a door lock mechanism to show the various types of things that can be patented.

  • A product: For our example, this would be the actual door lock. (While this is not new technology, a patent for improvements on existing door locks would be considered.)
  • A composition: For example, a specific chemical or lubricant used in door locks
  • An apparatus: A machine that makes door locks
  • A process: A method of making a door lock

What about industrial designs?

The visual appearance and design of a product can also be protected under the Industrial Design Act for up to 10 years. Examples include a specifically designed cell phone, a piece of furniture, a lamp or running shoes for elite athletes. It can be:

  • a shape              
  • configuration
  • pattern
  • ornament
  • or any combination of these

With industrial design, you are protecting the visual appearance of a product or article.

To qualify for protection as an industrial design, it must be original and appealing to the eye.

In our next blog post on patents and industrial designs, we’ll look at how you can search existing patent databases to discover the latest innovations, avoid infringement, find new partnerships and identify competitors.


Mitacs empowers Canadian innovation through effective partnerships that deliver solutions to our most pressing problems. By driving economic growth and productivity, we create meaningful change to improve quality of life for all Canadians.