Patent FAQs

What is a Patent?

A patent is an exclusive right given by law to inventors to make use of, and exploit, their inventions for a limited period of time. By granting the inventor a temporary monopoly in exchange for a full description of how to perform the invention, patents play a key role in developing industry around the world.

Once the owner of an invention has been granted a patent in any particular country, they then have the legal authority to exclude others from making, using, or selling the claimed invention in that country without their consent, for a fixed period of time. In this way, inventors can prevent others from benefiting from their ingenuity and, ultimately, sharing in profits from the invention, without their permission. In return for these ownership rights, the applicant must make public the complete details of the patented invention. These include:

  • background information (the ‘state of the art’)
  • the nature of any technical problems solved by the invention
  • a detailed description of the invention and how it works
  • illustrations of the invention where appropriate.

Patent protection in a given country does not extend to other countries -inventors must file an application in each territory where they want their patent to be effective. To maintain the validity of a patent, the owner needs to pay fees to each appropriate patent authority; failure to do so causes the patent rights to lapse. Most countries also require that the patent is “worked.” This means that the protected invention is put to commercial use, within a specified period of time.

This document Copyright Thomson Scientific © 2004

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