Behind the scenes at Canada’s Patent Office

What is a patent?

A patent is a legal right to prevent others from making, using or selling your invention for up to 20 years in the country or region where your patent is granted. A patent is only valid in the country where it is granted; there is no international patent. Watch our e-module to learn the basics of patent protection.

CIPO's role in the context of Canadian patent laws

Among other functions, the Canadian Intellectual Property Office (CIPO) handles patent applications in accordance with the legislation:

  • Patent Act - the legal framework for requirements, rights and procedures for patent registration and how the right can be enforced
  • Patent Rules - detailed rules and procedures that supplement the Patent Act
  • Amendments to the Patent Act - changes and updates to existing patent laws
  • College of Patent Agents and Trademark Agents Act - the 2018 law that allowed the establishment of the College of Patent Agents and Trademark Agents, the independent public interest regulator of patent agents and trademark agents in Canada

How are these laws implemented?

CIPO doesn't make the laws but is responsible for implementing the provisions outlined in the Patent Act, any amendments as well as the Patent Rules. CIPO's interpretation of the Patent Act, the Patent Rules and jurisprudence can be found in the Manual of Patent Office Practice, which examiners at CIPO use to follow a consistent set of administrative and examination practices with respect to patent applications, patents and related procedures.

International agreements: the Patent Cooperation Treaty

CIPO also has an important role when it comes to international applications via the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system. CIPO is the receiving office for Canadian applicants and is also an International Search Authority (ISA). An ISA fulfills specific tasks, as prescribed by the PCT, and includes carrying out responsibilities such as international searches and preliminary examination of PCT applications.

What does an examiner do at CIPO?

CIPO's patent examiners analyze inventions described in patent applications and search intellectual property (IP) databases to cross-reference with other applications. During examination, they also question or make objections to claims in a patent application, which are then discussed with the applicant or their patent agent.

Some key statistics for how many patent applications were filed, examined and granted since 2018:

All disciplines
Patent applications from all disciplines 2018 to 2019 2019 to 2020 2020 to 2021 2021 to 2022
Filed 39,027 37,999 37,164 39,709
Request for examination 30,163 28,209 28,193 29,737
Granted 23,093 21,005 22,451 19,525

Examination is the process we use to decide if your application meets the requirements for your invention to be granted a patent. Your application is not automatically examined when it's filed. To have your patent application examined, you must send a request for examination.

How long does it typically take to get a patent?

"Patent prosecution" is the term used to describe the process of filing, examining and issuing a patent. It is a complex process, which generally takes longer compared to other forms of IP rights. The time it takes to obtain a patent can vary greatly, depending on factors such as the complexity of the invention, the length of the application, the workload of the patent office and the number of amendments or objections filed during the examination process. On average, it takes roughly 6 years from filing to be granted a patent from CIPO. This time includes 2 important blocks:

  1. Any time between the filing date (when CIPO receives the application) and the date when the request for examination is received (CIPO does not automatically examine patent applications; this has to be requested)
  2. The turnaround time - the time for granting a patent after a request for examination has been made (currently an average of 2.5 years)

If certain conditions are met, there are also ways to request an expedited examination:

Advanced examination for green technologies is available for technologies that help resolve or mitigate environmental impacts or conserve the natural environment and resources.

Advanced examination under a special order is available if the regular patent approval process time is likely to prejudice the applicant's or a third party's rights.

Accelerated examination under the Patent Prosecution Highway (PPH) is a way to fast track the examination process if you already have a corresponding patent application or grant with one of Canada's PPH partners.

Accelerated examination of patent applications related to COVID-19 relief for small entities is available for inventions related to medical products from businesses employing 50 or fewer employees and universities.

In general, expedited examination means that after the request has been accepted, (a letter from CIPO to inform applicants of any issues or objections related to their application) is issued within 3 months.

Should I file for a patent myself or hire a professional?

About 2% of applicants file a patent without the help of a professional. While it might seem like a good idea as it is cost-effective and you can maintain confidentiality, taking on the work without a thorough understanding of the laws, timelines and procedures may result in an IP right that doesn't serve your business well in the long term. Listen to episode 9 of the Canadian IP Voices podcast where Marie-Claude Gagnon, a patent examiner at CIPO, explains the typical pitfalls in patent applications based on her experience with the examination process.

While you may be able to file a patent application on your own, it is important to consider the benefits of working with an IP professional to ensure that your patent application is strong, complete and in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations. Having an IP professional on your side can save you time and money, as they have the experience and knowledge to navigate the complex patent process and ensure that your patent application is filed correctly and efficiently.

We recommend seeking guidance from an IP professional for a better chance of success. These are licensed professionals who have invested time and money into building expertise and are authorized to offer this as a service. You can find an agent through the College of Patent Agents and Trademark Agents (CPATA). CPATA is the independent public interest regulator of patent agents and trademark agents in Canada. In some cases, patent agents are required by law:

  1. When the owner of the patent application is a company or an organization
  2. When the applicant is not the inventor
  3. When there has been a transfer of ownership of the patent

What can a patent agent do for you?

Patent agents can assess your invention for patentability in light of other inventions. They have the expertise to write applications with appropriate technical language in the claims, and can often determine alternatives routes for how, where and when to file for cost-effective patent protection. Most importantly, they have a responsibility to adhere to their code of professional conduct (PDF Version, 33 pages, 706 KB) , which includes keeping track of any correspondence with the patent office.

Contact an IP professional if you have questions about IP.

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