Canada Day is tomorrow and what better way to celebrate it in the patent world than looking back at some of the most memorable Canadian inventions and innovations:
Insulin, featured on Canada’s $100 bill, is one of Canada’s best-known discoveries. Insulin was discovered by Sir Frederick G. Banting, with the help of his assistant Charles Best and biochemist James Collip (who is often overlooked), in lab space at the University of Toronto. Insulin was patented on October 9th, 1923 (US Patent 1,469,994), but the inventors refused to profit from the patent. Banting reportedly said, “Insulin belongs to the world, not to me.” Ultimately, Banting, Best, and Collip agreed to receive $1 each, in exchange for transferring the patent rights to the University of Toronto, which then explored commercial routes for mass production.
When someone says “invention of the light bulb”, chances are that you think of the American inventor Thomas Edison. However, Edison’s light bulb was the culmination of decades of work by others, including Canadians! Before Edison’s first viable prototype (which used a bamboo filament) burned for more than 13 hours in 1879, two Canadians, Henry Woodward and Matthew Evans, had already produced and patented an electric filament lamp. The Canadian patent, approved on August 3rd, 1874, was simply titled Electric Light. Despite the patent, however, the duo still struggled to find investment for the production of their bulbs, eventually running out of money and abandoning the project. In 1879, they sold the US counterpart patent to Edison, whose growing light-bulb patent portfolio allowed him to refine and perfect the technology.
The pacemaker was created by the Winnipeg-born John Hopps, who is often viewed as the father of Biomedical Engineering in Canada. Interestingly enough, Hopps stumbled on to this invention by mistake. The story started in 1949, when Hopps was re-assigned to the Banting Institute in Toronto, to research the effects of radiofrequency heating on hypothermia in dogs. Cardiac surgeons at the Institute were exploring the use of cold to facilitate open-heart surgery, but were struggling with inducing contractions once the heart grew too cold. Hopps observed that an electrical impulse would cause the heart to contract, and that repeated pulses would lead to repeated, controlled contractions: that is, would lead to pacing the heart. With further experiments, in 1950, Hopps invented his first “pacemaker”. This device was too big to be used internally, and would still take around 10 years and a number of different teams to make it as small and complex as the pacemakers that exist nowadays.
Fun Fact: The first patient to use the Artificial Cardiac Pacemaker, Arne Larsson, lived to age 88 and went on to use 26 different pacemakers during his life, since they didn’t last very long at first.
The Canadarm is perhaps Canada’s most famous technological achievement in the field of robotics. Several Canadian and Canada-based firms contributed to the project, including DSMA Atcon, Spar Aerospace, CAE Electronics, RCA Canada, and MDA. The first arm (“robotic manipulator”) was in operation for 30 years, before being retired in 2011. Still, the legacy of the Canadarm lives on: Canadarm2 has been active on the ISS since 2001, and Canadarm3, in development by the once-again Canadian-owned MDA, is in the works for the US-led Lunar Gateway outpost.
Although AI innovation is a worldwide phenomenon, Canada has been punching above its weight! In 2018, three researchers with deep ties to Canada received the Turing Award, computing’s highest honour, for foundational work on deep learning. Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton, and Yann LeCun were awarded the prize for “conceptual and engineering breakthroughs that have made deep neural networks a critical component of computing”, enabling many of the recent breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and machine learning. In recent years, the numbers of patent applications for AI-related inventions around the globe has soared, driving and driven by a new wave of innovation.
Some other Canadian inventions worth mentioning are: snowshoes, basketball, the Instant Pot™ multicooker, the walkie-talkie portable radio, the paint roller, peanut butter, Jacques Plante’s goalie mask, the hydrofoil plane, the alkaline battery, and the steam-operated foghorn.
BONUS: Hawaiian Pizza is one of the most controversial pizzas in existence. Most people either love it or hate it. In 2014, Time magazine named Hawaiian first in its list of “The 13 Most Influential Pizzas of All Time”. Perhaps the most surprising aspect about this pizza is its “not so tropical” background: “Hawaiian” pizza was created by the Greek-born Canadian immigrant Sotirios “Sam” Panopoulos in Chatham, Ontario, in the 1960s!
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