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A patent (pronounced /ˈpætənt/ or /ˈpeɪtənt/) is a set of exclusive rights granted by a state (national government) to an inventor or their assignee for a limited period of time in exchange for a public disclosure of an invention.
The procedure for granting patents, the requirements placed on the patentee, and the extent of the exclusive rights vary widely between countries according to national laws and international agreements. Typically, however, a patent application must include one or more claims defining the invention which must be new, inventive, and useful or industrially applicable. In many countries, certain subject areas are excluded from patents, such as business methods and mental acts. The exclusive right granted to a patentee in most countries is the right to prevent others from making, using, selling, or distributing the patented invention without permission.
Under the World Trade Organization's (WTO) Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, patents should be available in WTO member states for any inventions, in all fields of technology, and the term of protection available should be the minimum twenty years. Different types of patents may have varying patent terms (i.e., durations).
The term patent usually refers to a right granted to anyone who invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof. The additional qualification utility patent is used in the United States to distinguish it from other types of patents (e.g. design patents) but should not be confused with utility models granted by other countries. Examples of particular species of patents for inventions include biological patents, business method patents, chemical patents and software patents.
Some other types of intellectual property rights are referred to as patents in some jurisdictions: industrial design rights are called design patents in some jurisdictions (they protect the visual design of objects that are not purely utilitarian), plant breeders' rights are sometimes called plant patents, and utility models or Gebrauchsmuster are sometimes called petty patents or innovation patents. This article relates primarily to the patent for an invention, although so-called petty patents and utility models may also be granted for inventions.
Certain grants made by the monarch in pursuance of the royal prerogative were sometimes called letters patent, which was a government notice to the public of a grant of an exclusive right to ownership and possession. These were often grants of a patent-like monopoly and predate the modern origins of the patent system. For other uses of the term patent see notably land patents, which were land grants by early state governments in the USA, and printing patent, a precursor of modern copyright. These meanings reflect the original meaning of letters patent that had a broader scope than current usage.
The word patent originates from the Latin patere, which means "to lay open" (i.e., to make available for public inspection), and more directly as a shortened version of the term letters patent, which originally denoted an open for public reading royal decree granting exclusive rights to a person.
In 500 BC, in the Greek city of Sybaris (located in what is now southern Italy), "encouragement was held out to all who should discover any new refinement in luxury, the profits arising from which were secured to the inventor by patent for the space of a year."
The Florentine architect Filippo Brunelleschi received a three-year patent for a barge with hoisting gear, that carried marble along the Arno River in 1421. In 1449, King Henry VI granted the first patent with a license of 20 years to John of Utynam for introducing the making of colored glass to England.
Patents in the modern sense originated in 1474, when the Republic of Venice enacted a decree that new and inventive devices, once put into practice, had to be communicated to the Republic to obtain the right to prevent others from using them.
England followed with the Statute of Monopolies in 1623 under King James I, which declared that patents could only be granted for "projects of new invention." During the reign of Queen Anne (1702–1714), the lawyers of the English Court developed the requirement that a written description of the invention must be submitted. The patent system in many other countries, including Australia, is based on British law and can be traced back to the Statute of Monopolies.
In France, patents were granted by the monarchy and by others institutions like the "Maison du Roi". The Academy examined novelty. Examinations were generally done in secret with no requirement to publish a description of the invention. Actual use of the invention was deemed adequate disclosure to the public. The modern French patent system was created during the Revolution in 1791. Patents were granted without examination since inventor's right was considered as a natural one 
In the United States, during the so-called colonial period and Articles of Confederation years (1778–1789), several states adopted patent systems of their own. The first Congress adopted a Patent Act, in 1790, and the first patent was issued under this Act on July 31, 1790 (to Samuel Hopkins of Vermont for a potash production technique).
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A patent is not a right to practice or use the invention. Rather, a patent provides the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing the patented invention for the term of the patent, which is usually 20 years from the filing date  subject to the payment of maintenance fees. A patent is, in effect, a limited property right that the government offers to inventors in exchange for their agreement to share the details of their inventions with the public. Like any other property right, it may be sold, licensed, mortgaged, assigned or transferred, given away, or simply abandoned.
The rights conveyed by a patent vary country-by-country. For example, in the United States, a patent covers research, except "purely philosophical" inquiry. A U.S. patent is infringed by any "making" of the invention, even a making that goes toward development of a new invention—which may itself become subject of a patent.
A patent being an exclusionary right does not, however, necessarily give the owner of the patent the right to exploit the patent. For example, many inventions are improvements of prior inventions that may still be covered by someone else's patent. If an inventor takes an existing, patented mouse trap design, adds a new feature to make an improved mouse trap, and obtains a patent on the improvement, he or she can only legally build his or her improved mouse trap with permission from the patent holder of the original mouse trap, assuming the original patent is still in force. On the other hand, the owner of the improved mouse trap can exclude the original patent owner from using the improvement.
Some countries have "working provisions" that require the invention be exploited in the jurisdiction it covers. Consequences of not working an invention vary from one country to another, ranging from revocation of the patent rights to the awarding of a compulsory license awarded by the courts to a party wishing to exploit a patented invention. The patentee has the opportunity to challenge the revocation or license, but is usually required to provide evidence that the reasonable requirements of the public have been met by the working of invention.
Patents can generally only be enforced through civil lawsuits (for example, for a U.S. patent, by an action for patent infringement in a United States federal court), although some countries (such as France and Austria) have criminal penalties for wanton infringement. Typically, the patent owner will seek monetary compensation for past infringement, and will seek an injunction prohibiting the defendant from engaging in future acts of infringement. To prove infringement, the patent owner must establish that the accused infringer practices all the requirements of at least one of the claims of the patent. (In many jurisdictions the scope of the patent may not be limited to what is literally stated in the claims, for example due to the "doctrine of equivalents").
An important limitation on the ability of a patent owner to successfully assert the patent in civil litigation is the accused infringer's right to challenge the validity of that patent. Civil courts hearing patent cases can and often do declare patents not valid. A patent can be found invalid on grounds that are set out in the relevant patent legislation that vary between countries. Often, the grounds are a subset of the requirements for patentability in the relevant country. Although an infringer is generally free to rely on any available ground of invalidity (such as a prior publication, for example), some countries have sanctions to prevent the same validity questions being relitigated. An example is the UK Certificate of contested validity.
The vast majority of patent rights, however, are not determined through litigation, but are resolved privately through patent licensing. Patent licensing agreements are effectively contracts in which the patent owner (the licensor) agrees to forgo their right to sue the licensee for infringement of the licensor's patent rights, usually in return for a royalty or other compensation. It is common for companies engaged in complex technical fields to enter into dozens of license agreements associated with the production of a single product. Moreover, it is equally common for competitors in such fields to license patents to each other under cross-licensing agreements in order to share the benefits of using each other's patented inventions.
In most countries, both natural persons and corporate entities may apply for a patent. In the United States, however, only the inventor(s) may apply for a patent although it may be assigned to a corporate entity subsequently and inventors may be required to assign inventions to their employers under a contract of employment. In most European countries, ownership of an invention may pass from the inventor to their employer by rule of law if the invention was made in the course of the inventor's normal or specifically assigned employment duties, where an invention might reasonably be expected to result from carrying out those duties, or if the inventor had a special obligation to further the interests of the employer's company.
The inventors, their successors or their assignees become the proprietors of the patent when and if it is granted. If a patent is granted to more than one proprietor, the laws of the country in question and any agreement between the proprietors may affect the extent to which each proprietor can exploit the patent. For example, in some countries, each proprietor may freely license or assign their rights in the patent to another person while the law in other countries prohibits such actions without the permission of the other proprietor(s).
The ability to assign ownership rights increases the liquidity of a patent as property. Inventors can obtain patents and then sell them to third parties. The third parties then own the patents and have the same rights to prevent others from exploiting the claimed inventions, as if they had originally made the inventions themselves.
The grant and enforcement of patents are governed by national laws, and also by international treaties, where those treaties have been given effect in national laws. Patents are, therefore, territorial in nature.
Commonly, a nation forms a patent office with responsibility for operating that nation's patent system, within the relevant patent laws. The patent office generally has responsibility for the grant of patents, with infringement being the remit of national courts.
There is a trend towards global harmonization of patent laws, with the World Trade Organization (WTO) being particularly active in this area. The TRIPs Agreement has been largely successful in providing a forum for nations to agree on an aligned set of patent laws. Conformity with the TRIPs agreement is a requirement of admission to the WTO and so compliance is seen by many nations as important. This has also led to many developing nations, which may historically have developed different laws to aid their development, enforcing patents laws in line with global practice.
A key international convention relating to patents is the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, initially signed in 1883. The Paris Convention sets out a range of basic rules relating to patents, and although the convention does not have direct legal effect in all national jurisdictions, the principles of the convention are incorporated into all notable current patent systems. The most significant aspect of the convention is the provision of the right to claim priority: filing an application in any one member state of the Paris Convention preserves the right for one year to file in any other member state, and receive the benefit of the original filing date. Because the right to a patent is intensely date-driven, this right is fundamental to modern patent usage.
The authority for patent statutes in different countries varies. In the UK, substantive patent law is contained in the Patents Act 1977 as amended. In the United States, the Constitution empowers Congress to make laws to "promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts..." The laws Congress passed are codified in Title 35 of the United States Code and created the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
In addition, there are international treaty procedures, such as the procedures under the European Patent Convention (EPC) [administered by the European Patent Organisation (EPOrg)], and the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) (administered by WIPO and covering more than 140 countries), that centralize some portion of the filing and examination procedure. Similar arrangements exist among the member states of ARIPO and OAPI, the analogous treaties among African countries, and the nine CIS member states that have formed the Eurasian Patent Organization.
A patent is requested by filing a written application at the relevant patent office. The person or company filing the application is referred to as "the applicant". The applicant may be the inventor or its assignee. The application contains a description of how to make and use the invention that must provide sufficient detail for a person skilled in the art (i.e., the relevant area of technology) to make and use the invention. In some countries there are requirements for providing specific information such as the usefulness of the invention, the best mode of performing the invention known to the inventor, or the technical problem or problems solved by the invention. Drawings illustrating the invention may also be provided.
The application also includes one or more claims, although it is not always a requirement to submit these when first filing the application. The claims set out what the applicant is seeking to protect in that they define what the patent owner has a right to exclude others from making, using, or selling, as the case may be. In other words, the claims define what a patent covers or the "scope of protection".
After filing, an application is often referred to as "patent pending." While this term does not confer legal protection, and a patent cannot be enforced until granted, it serves to provide warning to potential infringers that if the patent is issued, they may be liable for damages.
For a patent to be granted, that is to take legal effect in a particular country, the patent application must meet the patentability requirements of that country. Most patent offices examine the application for compliance with these requirements. If the application does not comply, objections are communicated to the applicant or their patent agent or attorney and one or more opportunities to respond to the objections to bring the application into compliance are usually provided.
Once granted the patent is subject in most countries to renewal fees to keep the patent in force. These fees are generally payable on a yearly basis, although the US is a notable exception. Some countries or regional patent offices (e.g. the European Patent Office) also require annual renewal fees to be paid for a patent application before it is granted.
There are four primary incentives embodied in the patent system: to invent in the first place; to disclose the invention once made; to invest the sums necessary to experiment, produce and market the invention; and to design around and improve upon earlier patents.
One effect of modern patent usage is that a small-time inventor can use the exclusive right status to become a licensor. This allows the inventor to accumulate capital from licensing the invention and may allow innovation to occur because he or she may choose to not manage a manufacturing buildup for the invention. Thus the inventor's time and energy can be spent on pure innovation, allowing others to concentrate on manufacturability.
Some of the costs to society associated with the granting of a patent are: the immediate costs associated with preparing the patent; patent office work; legal costs associated with prosecuting alleged infringements; business costs associated with those legal actions; increasing the cost of determining whether a method is covered by an existing patent, and reduced certainty in the result; restrictions on the use of the patented method (particularly in cases where the method is redeveloped independently).
The costs of preparing and filing a patent application, prosecuting it until grant and maintaining the patent vary from one jurisdiction to another, and may also be dependent upon the type and complexity of the invention, and on the type of patent.
The European Patent Office estimated in 2005 that the average cost of obtaining a European patent (via a Euro-direct application, i.e. not based on a PCT application) and maintaining the patent for a 10 year term was around 32 000 Euro. Since the London Agreement entered into force on May 1, 2008, this estimation is however no longer up-to-date, since fewer translations are required.
In the United States, direct legal costs of patent litigation are on average in the order of a million dollars per case, not including associated business costs, based on an American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA) survey of patent lawyers (2005), and court documents for a sample of 89 court cases where one side was ordered to pay the other side's legal fees.
Patents have been criticized both in principle and in implementation.
In principle, patents have been criticized as a restraint of trade, for conferring a negative right upon a patent owner, permitting them to exclude competitors from using or exploiting the invention, even if the competitor subsequently develops the same invention independently. This may be subsequent to the date of invention, or to the priority date, depending upon the relevant patent law (see First to file and first to invent).
At present, the files, are so extraordinarily complex and the items so multitudinous that a veritable army of governmental servants is required to attend them and sort them into some order of distinguishable categories to which reference may be made when corresponding with patent applicants for the purposes of examiner citation of "prior art" disclosure. This complexity makes it inevitable that the human-equation involved in government servants relative to carelessness or mechanical limitations should occasion the granting of multitudes of "probably" invalid patent claims.
Patents may hinder innovation as well in the case of "troll" entities. A holding company, pejoratively known as a "patent troll", owns a portfolio of patents, and sues others for infringement of these patents while doing little to develop the technology itself. Other commentators suggest that patent trolls are not bad for the patent system at all but instead realign market participant incentives, make patents more liquid, and clear the patent market.
Another theoretical problem with patent rights was proposed by law professors Michael Heller and Rebecca Sue Eisenberg. Based on Heller's theory of the tragedy of the anticommons, the authors argued that intellectual property rights may become so fragmented that, effectively, no one can take advantage of them as to do so would require an agreement between the owners of all of the fragments.
Pharmaceutical patents prevent generic alternatives to enter the market until the patents expire, and thus maintains high prices for medication. This can have significant effects in the developing world, as those who are most in need of basic essential medicines are unable to afford such high priced pharmaceuticals. Critics also question the rationale that exclusive patent rights and the resulting high prices are required for pharmaceutical companies to recoup the large investments needed for research and development. One study concluded that marketing expenditures for new drugs often doubled the amount that was allocated for research and development.
In one response to these criticisms, one review concluded that less than 5 percent of medicines on the World Health Organization's list of essential drugs are under patent. Also, the pharmaceutical industry has contributed US$2 billion for healthcare in developing countries, providing HIV/AIDS drugs at lower cost or even free of charge in certain countries, and has used differential pricing and parallel imports to provide medication to the poor. Other groups are investigating how social inclusion and equitable distribution of research and development findings can be obtained within the existing intellectual property framework, although these efforts have received less exposure.
Brazil filed a proposal in 2010 with the WIPO Standing Committee on the Law of Patents about the imbalance of rights between IP title holders and the society as a whole with emphasis on the imbalance of benefits from strong IP rights between the few developed countries and the majority of member states. Such imbalance is also recognized between freedom rights and exclusion rights by the computing profession.
Concerns of a similar order have also been documented elsewhere, showing that public campaigns have had a concern for "preventing the over-reach" of IP protection including patent protection, and "to retain a public balance in property rights" of this kind. The same source also noted the shift that had taken place away from the historical classification of such rights as "grants of privilege", towards referring to them in terms of property and rights; a change that encouraged a change of view of the relation of sovereign governments towards them, away from something that the government "may grant" towards a "duty to uphold them".
A patent is a set of exclusive rights granted by a state to a patentee (the inventor or assignee) for a fixed period of time in exchange for the regulated, public disclosure of certain details of a device, method, process or composition of matter (substance) (known as an invention) which is new, inventive, and useful or industrially applicable.
A patent is a right given by a government to a person or company that has invented some new and useful idea. The patent gives its owner the right to stop other people or companies from making, using or selling products that use the invention. But after the patent ends, the patent owner cannot prevent other people from using the idea.
A patent right does not last forever. The patent right usually ends after about 20 years.
The person or company that thought up the new and useful idea is called an inventor.
To get a patent, the inventor must ask the government by describing the invention in writing. This is called a patent application. The inventor can write the patent application, but it is usually written by a person trained to write patent applications. This person is called a patent agent or, if the person is a lawyer, a patent attorney.
The government does not usually just give the inventor a patent. Instead, the government tries to confirm whether the idea is actually new. This is called patent examination. The government will try to find books, stories, or even other patents that show that the idea was not new. The inventor, or his or her patent attorney, then try to show how the inventor's idea is different from anything that the government finds.
If the government finds that the inventor's idea is new and useful, it will publish the patent. The government will also send the inventor a copy of his or her patent application with a special seal. This copy is the patent.
The inventor must also pay the government a tax to get a patent. Usually, an inventor pays money to ask for the patent, and the inventor pays money when he or she gets a patent. In some countries, the owner of a patent must also pay money to keep the patent.
The owner of a patent can stop other people from using their idea. If someone other than the patent owner uses the patent, this is called infringing a patent. If the owner knows that someone is infringing his or her patent, the patent owner can ask a court to stop them. If the court agrees that the other person was using the patent, the court can make that person pay a fine to the patent owner.
The patent owner can give other people permission to use their patent. This is called a license. The person that wants to use another person's patent will usually pay money to the patent owner.
Patents most often cover products or processes that contain ‘new’ functional or technical ideas. They are concerned with how things work, how they are made or what they are made of. Patents cover many different things such as electronics, medicines, agriculture and transport – anything in fact from a small detail in an electric switch to an entire power station.
Often a product is marked with a text saying 'patent pending’ or 'pat. pending', which means that a patent has been asked for (part of) the product. Then people are warned that they should not copy the invention.
Patents are usually very long. They include a number of smaller parts. A patent usually includes a section that briefly describes the idea called the abstract. It also may include a section that describes other people's inventions and how the inventor's idea is different called the "background of the invention."
The patent also includes a long description of the idea itself called a "detailed description." In this section, the inventor tries to describe every detail of his or her invention.
The patent also has a number of pictures called the "figures." The figures are usually drawn by people called draftsman that are trained to draw in a special way. The pictures are labeled with numbers to show different parts of the invention.
At the end of most patents is a section called the claims. These are usually numbered. They include the a short statement that lists all of the things needed for the invention. A court will use the claims to decide if another person is "infringing the patent."