Patents are granted only to inventors but can be sold, licensed and transferred to other individuals, companies, banks, universities and government agencies. Most companies require their employees to assign their patent rights to the company. When an inventor sells or transfers his or her patent to a company, the patent is said to have been assigned. The owner of a patent is often referred to as the assignee.
When an inventor assigns his or her rights during the application process, the granted patent will list the assignee. If the inventor assigned their patent after it was granted, the patent will not show the assignee. Companies change their names as a result of mergers, acquisitions, changes in ownership or rebranding exercises. When this happens, patent offices do not retrospectively update their records. Patents issued after the name change will have the company's new name while older patents will still bear the former name.
Case Study: Northern Electric/Nortel
Northern Electric and Manufacturing was founded in 1895 as a maker of telecommunications equipment for Canada's early telephone industry. In 1914 the company merged with the Imperial Wire and Cable Co. to form the Northern Electric Company, Ltd. In 1995 it changed its name to Nortel Networks. In order to find all the Canadian patents assigned to Nortel and its predecessor companies, you would have to search its current and historical names.
Try searching these names in the Canadian Patents database.
Searching by company name can be used to find a specific patent or retrieve a company's entire patent portfolio.
Nicknames and Abbreviations
Most companies use their full legal names on patent applications. For example,
Company name changes are fairly common. Make sure to search current and former names.
Mergers and Spin-offs
The names of North American and European companies can be difficult to recognize on Chinese, Japanese and Korean patent documents due to how the name is translated.