Sunday, 25 January 2015


What is a patent?

A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention. In other words, a patent is an exclusive right to a product or a process that generally provides a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. To get a patent, technical information about the invention must be disclosed to the public in a patent application.
The patent owner may give permission to, or license, other parties to use the invention on mutually agreed terms. The owner may also sell the right to the invention to someone else, who will then become the new owner of the patent. Once a patent expires, the protection ends, and an invention enters the public domain; that is, anyone can commercially exploit the invention without infringing the patent.
What kind of protection does a patent offer? 
In principle, the patent owner has the exclusive right to prevent or stop others from commercially exploiting the patented invention. In other words, patent protection means that the invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed, imported or sold by others without the patent owner's consent.
Is a patent valid in every country? 
Patents are territorial rights. In general, the exclusive rights are only applicable in the country or region in which a patent has been filed and granted, in accordance with the law of that country or region.
How long does a patent last? 
The protection is granted for a limited period, generally 20 years from the filing date of the application.

What kinds of inventions can be protected? ↓
Patents may be granted for inventions in any field of technology, from an everyday kitchen utensil to a nanotechnology chip. An invention can be a product – such as a chemical compound, or a process, for example – or a process for producing a specific chemical compound. Many products in fact contain a number of inventions. For example, a laptop computer can involve hundreds of inventions, working together.
Is a patent valid in every country? ↓
Patents are territorial rights. In general, the exclusive rights are only applicable in the country or region in which a patent has been filed and granted, in accordance with the law of that country or region.
How are patent rights enforced? ↓
Patent rights are usually enforced in a court on the initiative of the right owner. In most systems a court of law has the authority to stop patent infringement. However the main responsibility for monitoring, identifying, and taking action against infringers of a patent lies with the patent owner.
What does it mean to “license a patent” and why is it done? ↓
Licensing a patent simply means that the patent owner grants permission to another individual/organization to make, use, sell etc. his/her patented invention. This takes place according to agreed terms and conditions (for example, defining the amount and type of payment to be made by the licensee to the licensor), for a defined purpose, in a defined territory, and for an agreed period of time.
A patent owner may grant a license to a third party for many reasons. The patent owner may not have the necessary manufacturing facilities, for example, and therefore opts to allow others to make and sell his/her patented invention in return for “royalty” payments. Alternatively, a patent owner may have manufacturing facilities, but they may not be large enough to cover market demand. In this case, he/she may be interested in licensing the patent to another manufacturer in order to benefit from another income stream. Another possible situation is one in which the patent owner wishes to concentrate on one geographic market; therefore the patent owner may choose to grant a license to another individual/organization, with interests in other geographical markets. Entering into a licensing agreement can help to build a mutually-beneficial business relationship.
Unlike selling or transferring a patent to another party, the licensor continue to have property rights over the patented invention.
Why are patents useful (to society, business, individuals etc.)? ↓
Patented inventions have, in fact, pervaded every aspect of human life, from electric lighting (patents held by Edison and Swan) and plastic (patents held by Baekeland), to ballpoint pens (patents held by Biro), and microprocessors (patents held by Intel, for example).
Patents provide incentives to and protection for individuals by offering them recognition for their creativity and the possibility of material reward for their inventions. At the same time, the obligatory publication of patents and patent applications facilitates the mutually-beneficial spread of new knowledge and accelerates innovation activities by, for example, avoiding the necessity to “re-invent the wheel”.
Once knowledge is publicly available, by its nature, it can be used simultaneously by an unlimited number of persons. While this is, without doubt, perfectly acceptable for public information, it causes a dilemma for the commercialization of technical knowledge. In the absence of protection of such knowledge, “free-riders” could easily use technical knowledge embedded in inventions without any recognition of the creativity of the inventor or contribution to the investments made by the inventor. As a consequence, inventors would naturally be discouraged to bring new inventions to the market, and tend to keep their commercially valuable inventions secret. A patent system intends to correct such under-provision of innovative activities by providing innovators with limited exclusive rights, thereby giving the innovators the possibility to receive appropriate returns on their innovative activities.
In a wider sense, the public disclosure of the technical knowledge in the patent, and the exclusive right granted by the patent, provide incentives for competitors to search for alternative solutions and to “invent around” the first invention. These incentives and the dissemination of knowledge about new inventions encourage further innovation, which assures that the quality of human life and the well-being of society is continuously enhanced.

Applying for patent protection

What conditions must be met to obtain patent protection? ↓
There are numerous conditions that must be met in order to obtain a patent and it is not possible to compile an exhaustive, universally applicable list. However, some of the key conditions include the following:
  • The invention must show an element of novelty; that is, some new characteristic which is not known in the body of existing knowledge in its technical field. This body of existing knowledge is called “prior art”.
  • The invention must involve an “inventive step” or “non-obvious”, which means that it could not be obviously deduced by a person having ordinary skill in the relevant technical field.
  • The invention must be capable of industrial application, meaning that it must be capable of being used for an industrial or business purpose beyond a mere theoretical phenomenon, or be useful.
  • Its subject matter must be accepted as “patentable” under law. In many countries, scientific theories, aesthetic creations, mathematical methods, plant or animal varieties, discoveries of natural substances, commercial methods, methods for medical treatment (as opposed to medical products) or computer programs are generally not patentable.
  • The invention must be disclosed in an application in a manner sufficiently clear and complete to enable it to be replicated by a person with an ordinary level of skill in the relevant technical field.
Who grants patents? ↓
A patent is granted by a national patent office or by a regional office that carries out the task for a number of countries. Currently, the following regional patent offices are in operation:
Under such regional systems, an applicant requests protection for an invention in one or more member states of the regional organization in question. The regional office accepts these patent applications, which have the same effect as national applications, or grants patents, if all the criteria for the grant of such a regional patent are met.
There is currently, no universal, international system for the grant of patents.
Do I need a patent attorney/agent to prepare and file a patent application? ↓
In general, applicants can prepare their patent applications and file them without assistance from a patent attorney. However, given the complexity of patent documents and the legal skills required, such as claim drafting, it is highly advisable to seek legal assistance from a patent attorney/agent when drafting a patent application.
Furthermore, the legislation of many countries requires that an applicant, whose ordinary residence or principal place of business is outside the country, be represented by an attorney or agent qualified in the country (which usually means an agent or attorney who resides and practices in that country). Information on the qualified attorneys and agents can be obtained directly from national and regional IP offices.
How much does it cost to patent an invention? ↓
The costs vary considerably from country to country (and even within a country). As the official fees vary widely from country to country, please contact the relevant national or regional patent office which will be able to give you details on the fee structure. Consult our list of national and regional intellectual property offices.
The cost of patenting an invention depends on factors such as the nature of the invention, its complexity, patent attorney’s fees, the length of the application, and possible objections raised during the examination by the patent office. Some countries offer discounts to small- and medium-sized enterprises and applicants filing the application online. In addition, some countries allow expedited examination upon payment of additional fees.
In addition to the national official filing fees, once a patent is granted by the patent office, you must pay maintenance or renewal fees, generally on an annual basis, to maintain the validity of the patent.
In case you decide to patent your invention abroad, you should also consider the relevant official filing fees for each country in question, the translation costs, and the costs of using local patent agents, which is a requirement in many countries for foreign applicants.
How can patents be obtained worldwide? ↓
At present, you cannot obtain a universal “world patent” or “international patent”. Patents are territorial rights. In general, an application for a patent must be filed, and the patent granted and enforced, in each country in which you seek patent protection for your invention, in accordance with the law of that country. Therefore, one way of obtaining patents in a number of countries is to file a national patent application with each relevant national patent office.
In some regions, a regional patent office, for example, the European Patent Office (EPO) and the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), accepts regional patent applications, or grants patents. These have the same effect as applications filed, or patents granted, in the member states of that region. This means that, in certain regions, you can obtain a regional patent from a regional patent office, which is valid in some or all of its member states.
If you are seeking patent protection in a number of countries worldwide, a good option is to file an international application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), administered by WIPO. Any resident or national of a state party to the PCT (contracting state) can file a single international application which has the effect of a national patent application (and certain regional patent applications) in some or all PCT contracting states. In some cases, this can be a more straightforward choice than choosing to try to submit individual applications in each and every country in which you require protection. Find out more about the PCT System.
What practical steps do I have to take to obtain patent protection? ↓
The first step in securing a patent is the filing of a patent application. Many patent offices provide a specific form to fill in. In some patent offices, you can file a patent application on line.
In the patent application, in general, you must describe the title of the invention, as well as provide an indication of its technical field. You must also include the background to and a description of the invention, in clear language and enough detail that a person with an average understanding of the field could use or reproduce the invention. Such descriptions are usually accompanied by visual materials such as drawings, plans, or diagrams to better describe the invention and an abstract, which contains a brief summary of the invention. You must also clearly and concisely define the matter for which patent protection is sought in the “claims” part of the patent application.
In addition, depending on the applicable patent law, you may need to submit various kinds of statements, declarations or supporting documents to a patent office. In view of the complexity it is recommended that you consult a patent attorney or a patent agent to prepare a patent application.
What happens after I’ve submitted my application? ↓
The procedures vary significantly from one country to another, so it is impossible to provide an exhaustive step-by-step overview. If you wish to research a country’s legislation in the field of patents independently, you can browse the WIPO Lex database of intellectual property (IP) legislation from around the world.
However it is recommended that you consult either a practicing lawyer specializing in IP or the relevant IP office. Consult our directory of national and regional IP offices.
Can the decision to grant a patent be challenged? ↓
The grant of a patent can be challenged either via a patent office or in a court of law. A court may invalidate or revoke a patent upon a successful challenge by a third party. In addition, many patent offices provide administrative procedures that allow third parties to oppose to the grant of a patent (including so-called "opposition systems"), for example, on the basis that the claimed invention is not new or does not involve an inventive step.
Procedures for challenging patents differ from country to country. Find out more about opposition systems.
Is it possible to extend the term of patent protection? ↓
In some countries, patent protection may be extended beyond 20 years or a Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) may be issued in very specific cases. The extension aims to compensate for the time expended on the administrative approval procedure before products can be put on the market. The time taken for this procedure means that the patent owner may sometimes not be able to benefit from his right for a considerable period of time after the grant of the patent.
Can I obtain a patent for a software-related invention? ↓
Possibly, but laws and practices in this regard can differ from one country or region to another. For example, in some countries, “inventions” within the meaning of patent law must have a “technical character”. In other countries, such requirements do not exist, meaning that in these countries software is generally patentable subject matter.
However this does not mean that all software will be able to be patent protected. In order to obtain a patent, a software invention must not fall under other non-patentable subject matter (for example, abstract ideas or mathematical theories) and has to fulfill the other substantive patentability criteria (for example, novelty, inventive step [non-obviousness] and industrial applicability [usefulness]).
It is therefore recommended that you consult a practicing lawyer specializing in intellectual property or the intellectual property offices of those countries in which you are interested in obtaining protection. Consult our directory of national and regional intellectual property offices to get in contact with a local IP professional, or browse the WIPO Lex database of intellectual property legislation from around the world.
Should a patent turn out not to be a viable option for your software-related invention, then using copyright as a means of protection may be an alternative. In general, computer programs are protected under copyright as literary works. The protection starts with the creation or fixation of the work, such as software or a webpage. Moreover, in general, you are not required to register or deposit copies of a work in order to obtain copyright protection.
However, according to a well-established principle, copyright protection extends only to expressions, not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation, or mathematical concepts as such. Thus many companies protect the object code of computer programs by copyright, while the source code is kept as a trade secretFind out more about copyright.
WIPO Lex provides easy access to intellectual property legislation from a wide range of countries and regions as well as to treaties on intellectual property.
Many national or regional patent offices also provide information concerning national or regional legislation on their websites. Consult our list of national and regional intellectual property offices.


Patents and business

Patent information

Where can I find patent information? 
Patent documents are published by national and regional patent offices, usually 18 months after the date on which a patent application was first filed or once a patent has been granted for the invention claimed by the patent applicant. Some patent offices publish patent documents through free-of-charge online databases, making it easier than ever to access patent information.
WIPO’s PATENTSCOPE database provides free-of-charge online access to millions of international patent applications filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) System as well as patent documents filed at national and regional patent offices such as the European Patent Office and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Though accessibility of patent information has grown as more and more patent offices make their patent documents available through online databases, certain skills are still required in order to make effective use of this information, including carrying out targeted patent searches and providing meaningful analysis of patent search results. As a result, it may be advisable to contact a patent information professional for assistance where business-critical decisions are at stake.
WIPO Patent Information Services (WPIS) provide free-of-charge patent search services for individuals and institutions in developing countries.
WIPO also supports the establishment and development of Technology and Innovation Support Centers (TISCs), which provide patent information and related services in many countries around the world.

WIPO and patents

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