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What is a patent: protecting inventions and innovation

A patent is a monopoly right granted by a national or regional patent office to an inventor who has created something new, useful and non-obvious; e.g. an innovation in the pharmaceutical sector that results in a new headache pill or a new technology used in computer hardware. Obtaining a patent to cover an invention or new technology enables its creator to prevent others from using, selling, manufacturing or otherwise copying the innovation without permission for a limited period (generally 20 years, subject to the payment of maintenance fees). In return, the patent owner discloses details of the innovation behind the invention as part of the patent application, thereby ensuring that the technology enters into the public domain where it can be used freely once the patent expires.

This is a basic introduction to patents and the patenting process. For details on Novagraaf’s specific patent services, including patent drafting, prior art searching, European and international filing strategies and litigation support, click here for our services overview page. To contact one of our attorneys or to review their expertise in your sector, click here.

By providing the patent owner with a legal means to prevent others from exploiting the protected invention, patents provide a crucial method for inventors to obtain a return on the investment in research and development that led to the creation of that new technology. In general, patents will also help to prompt further innovation in the sector, as rival companies seek to develop their own solutions or technology to retain their competitive edge.

What is a patent: the basics

Patents do not protect an ‘idea’; it is the tangible description or realisation of that idea (e.g. drawings, prototypes or records of the research) that allows an idea to become an invention that is capable of protection. Only products or processes that contain or possess new functional or technical aspects can be patented. This could be an entirely new product, an enhancement to an existing product or a new or improved process.

Similarly, an invention must fulfil certain criteria of patentability. This can differ according to the country or region in question but, in general, will include the need for the technology to be:

  • ‘New’ – does the invention already exist (e.g. has it already been created by another inventor)? Has the inventor already disclosed the innovation (e.g. through publication) anywhere in the world before the application date. If so, it will not meet this criteria of novelty.
  • Obtained as a result of the activity of invention (‘inventive step’) – this requirement will generally have been fulfilled if, when comparing the invention to what is already known, the innovation would not be obvious to someone with experience and knowledge of the subject matter of the invention.
  • Capable of industrial application – the invention or new technology must be capable of being used in a current technical application, so that it can be made or used in some kind of industry, i.e. it must have a practical application.
  • Most national patent systems also restrict or block from patenting, discoveries in certain areas; e.g. scientific theory and mathematical methods; computer programs as such; new animal or plant varieties; and methods of treatment and diagnosis.

Patents are territorial rights: their grant and enforcement is governed by national laws and the rights conveyed can vary country-by-country. It’s not possible to register a ‘global’ patent right for an invention; however, you can file a national right and extend that right into other territories, subject to certain criteria and deadlines. For more on filing a national right, click here; for insight on obtaining international coverage, click here.

A patent is not a right to practice or use the protected invention; instead, it provides the right to exclude others from doing so. As such, the emphasis is on the patent owner to monitor for misuse and to enforce the right via infringement action where misuse is found.

A patent is an item of (intellectual) property and, like any other property right, may be sold, transferred, licensed, mortgaged, given away or simply abandoned.

What is a patent: further information

You can find out more about patents and the processes for obtaining, enforcing and exploiting patent rights, here. For information on Novagraaf’s patent services, including patent drafting, prior art searching, EP/PCT filing, the Unitary Patent and litigation support, click here for our services overview page. Alternatively, contact our customer support team, using the contact form at the top right of this page.