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Research Guides

Introduction to Patents and Patent Searching

This guide is designed to introduce you to patent searching. Basic patent information as well as useful resources are included to help get you started.


A patent is protection granted by a national government for an invention. This protection excludes others from making, using or selling an invention for a period of up to 20 years. Many drug companies and university researchers seek patent protection to recover research and development costs for patents related to specific genes and proteins, laboratory techniques and drugs. In order for patents to be issued by a granting agency such as a Patent Office they need to be new, useful and not obvious to others working in the same field.
For a more detailed description of patent law in Canada refer to the Canadian Patent Act.

Requirements for patentability

  1. Usefulness/Utility - The claimed invention must be useful/functional. A machine must work according to its intended purpose and a chemical must exhibit an activity or have some use.
  2. Novelty -The invention must be different than anything known before; it must not have been described in a prior publication and it must not have been publicly used or sold.
  3. Non-obviousness/Ingenuity -The invention must be a development or an improvement that would not have been obvious beforehand to workers of average skill in the technology involved.

Novelty and non-obviousness are judged against everything publicly known before the invention, as shown in earlier patents and other published material. This body of public knowledge is called "prior art.”

Types of Patents

There are three types of patents:

  1. Utility patents - issued for any process, machine, article of manufacture, or compositions of matters, or any new useful improvement. In general, this type of patent protects the way an item is used or works. For example, golf club head.
  2. Design patents - issued for a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. In general, this type of patent protects the appearance of an item, for example, safety goggles.
  3. Plant patents - issued for asexually reproduced, distinct, and new varieties of plants. For example, a Dahlia plant named 'mystic wizard'.

Patent Families

A patent family:

  • is a group of patent documents from different countries that protect the same invention.
  • defines the geographic scope of patent protection for an invention.
  • is useful for locating alternate language versions of a patent document.

Note: Patent coverage only applies within the country that grants a patent so that an inventor must file a patent application in every country for which protection is wanted.