What is a Patent?

This article also answers the following questions:

  • What are the rights of a patent?
  • What are the objectives of a patent?
  • How long does a patent last?
  • Are there any maintenance fees?
  • Where is a patent valid?

What is a Patent?

Once a process or product is developed which is thought to show an invention (i.e. something which is novel and inventive), a patent can be obtained.  A patent is an officially registered, enforceable legal right to a monopoly on the doing, making or selling of the invention.  To obtain a patent, much analysis must be carried out in relation to any prior art to insure that the invention is not already in the public domain.

A patent is a carefully written legal document, usually drafted with the help of a patent attorney.   It must describe the invention with enough detail for a person to replicate and also contain claims to describe the scope of the invention.  The two most common patents are design patents and utility patents.

What is the Objective of a Patent?

The objective of a patent, as well as protecting the actual invention, is to protect against a competitor’s attempts at applying the invention in a different way.  Also, a patent bestows ownership of the invention and so, if the potential of the invention outstrips the resources of the inventor, licensing to others is a possible lucrative route to consider.

How Long does a Patent Last?

Once obtained, a patent will be enforced for a fixed term, usually 20 years from the filing date.  A patent can be extended in some cases, for example in pharmaceutical companies.  Pharmaceutical companies have the difficult situation in that, once their drug route has been invented and patented, it can take 8 or more years after invention to accumulate enough analytical data to obtain approval from the authorities even before clinical trials.  This means that, in the case of successful clinical trials, there may only be a few years left of exclusivity before the patent expires.  Once the patent does expire, generic competitors can undercut the market and thus the brand name sales drop dramatically.  An extension of a patent allows the inventor to hold onto their exclusive rights, and thus financially benefit for longer.

Are there any Maintenance Fees?

To keep a patent valid in its 20-year lifetime, it is necessary to pay maintenance fees.  In most European countries, these fees are due yearly, while in the US they are paid 3.5, 7.5 and 11.5 years after the filing date.  Patents may be abandoned before their expiration, most commonly as the costs overtake the value of the patent.

Where is a Patent Valid?

Patents have territorial rights and therefore are only upheld in the country they are granted in.  However, patents can also be granted through intergovernmental intellectual property offices such as the European Patent Office, Eurasian Patent Office, Gulf Cooperation Council, African Regional Intellectual Property Office or Organisation Africaine de la Proprie Intellectuelle, where all of the member states are covered by one patent application once the application has been filed with the relevant office.  An application can also be filed through the Patent Cooperation Treaty, which provides a route to file a central application, later converted to national and regional applications.

Find out a whole lot more about patents in the UK IPO Patents: Basic Facts Guide here.  Also, check out the related articles below: