What is a Patent?
A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention – a product or process that provides a new way of doing something, or that offers a new technical solution to a problem. A patent provides patent owners with protection for their inventions. Protection is granted for a limited period, generally 20 years.
Why are patents necessary?
Patents provide incentives to individuals by recognizing their creativity and offering the possibility of material reward for their marketable inventions. These incentives encourage innovation, which in turn enhances the quality of human life.
What kind of protection do patents offer?
Patent protection means an invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed or sold without the patent owner’s consent. Patent rights are usually enforced in courts that, in most systems, hold the authority to stop patent infringement. Conversely, a court can also declare a patent invalid upon a successful challenge by a third party.
What rights do patent owners have?
A patent owner has the right to decide who may – or may not – use the patented invention for the period during which it is protected. Patent owners may give 5 permissions to, or license, other parties to use their inventions on mutually agreed terms. Owners may also sell their invention rights to someone else, who then becomes the new owner of the patent. Once a patent expires, protection ends and the invention enters the public domain. This is also known as becoming off patent, meaning the owner no longer holds exclusive rights to the invention, and it becomes available for commercial exploitation by others.
How is a patent granted?
The first step in securing a patent is to file a patent application. The application generally contains the title of the invention, as well as an indication of its technical field. It must include the background and a description of the invention, in clear language and enough detail that an individual with an average understanding of the field could use or reproduce the invention. Such descriptions are usually accompanied by visual materials – drawings, plans or diagrams – that describe the invention in greater detail. The application also contains various “claims”, that is, information to help determine the extent of protection to be granted by the patent.
What kinds of inventions can be protected?
An invention must, in general, fulfill the following conditions to be protected by a patent. It must be of practical use; it must show an element of “novelty”, meaning some new characteristic that is not part of the body of existing knowledge in its particular technical field. That body of existing knowledge is called “prior art”. The invention must show an “inventive step” that could not be deduced by a person with average knowledge of the technical field. Its subject matter must be accepted as “patentable” under law. In many countries, scientific theories, mathematical methods, plant or animal varieties, discoveries of natural substances, commercial methods or methods of medical treatment (as opposed to medical products) are not generally patentable.
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