Patents deal with the protection of inventions where one could define inventions as new solutions to technical problems. This maybe a solution to a new or existing problem. A distinction needs to be made between discovering something that just exists and inventing/ creating something new from already existing or newly discovered things in nature Human intervention must be added. An invention is not necessarily a complex item. For example paper clips were an invention which solved an existing “technical” problem. New solutions are, in essence, ideas, and are protected as such. Thus protection of inventions under patent law does not require that the invention be represented in a physical embodiment.
Patents, are the most widespread means of protecting the rights of inventors. Simply put, a patent is the right granted to an inventor by a State, or by a regional office acting for several States, which allows the inventor to exclude anyone else from commercially exploiting his invention for a limited period, generally 20 years. By granting an exclusive right, patents provide incentives to individuals, offering them recognition for their creativity and material reward for their marketable inventions. It is critical to register patents for your ideas as these allow you to make commercial use of the patent or one can license some other entity to commercially exploit the invention and be paid licence fees.
In return for the exclusive right, the inventor must adequately disclose the patented invention to the public, so that others can gain the new knowledge and can further develop the technology. The disclosure of the invention is thus an essential consideration in any patent granting procedure. The patent system is so designed as to balance the interests of inventors and the interests of the general public.
In order to obtain a patent for an invention, the inventor, or the entity he works for, submits an application to the national or regional patent office. In the application the inventor must describe the invention in detail and compare it with previous existing technologies in the same field in order to demonstrate its newness.
Not all inventions are patentable. Laws generally require that an invention fulfill the following conditions, known as the requirements or conditions of patentability:
Industrial Applicability (utility). The invention must be of practical use, or capable of some kind of industrial application.
Novelty. It must show some new characteristic that is not known in the body of existing knowledge in its technical field.
Inventive step (non-obviousness). It must show an inventive step that could not be deduced by a person with average knowledge of the technical field.
Patentable subject matter. The invention must fall within the scope of patentable subject matter as defined by national law. This varies from one country to another. Many countries exclude from patentablility such subject matter as scientific theories, mathematical methods, plant or animal varieties, discoveries of natural substances, methods for medical treatment (as opposed to medical products), and any invention where prevention of its commercial exploitation is necessary to protect public order, good morals or public health.
The conditions of novelty and inventive step (non-obviousness) must exist at acertain date, generally the date on which the application is filed. There is an exception to this rule, covered by an applicant’s right of priority, regulated by the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. This exception relates only to applications made in countries party to the Paris Convention. The right of priority means that, having filed an application in one member country of the Paris Convention, the same applicant (or his successor in title) may, within a specified time period, apply for protection for the same invention in any of the other member countries. These later applications will be regarded as if they had been filed on the same day as the earliest application.
The patent owner’s exclusive rights generally consist of the following: in the case of a product patent, the right to prevent third parties without the owner’s consent from making, using, offering for sale, selling or importing for these purposes the product; in the case of a process patent, the right to prevent third parties without the owner’s consent from using the process; and to prevent third parties from using, offering for sale, selling or importing for these purposes the products which were obtained directly by that process.
The patentee is not given a statutory right to exploit his own invention, but rather a statutory right to prevent others from commercially exploiting it. He may give permission, or grant a license, to other parties to use the invention on mutually agreed terms. The patentee may also sell his right to the invention to someone else, who will then become the new owner of the patent.
® A patent is therefore an exclusive right granted for an invention new an inventive step capable of industrial application
Advantages of patenting
strong market position and competitive advantage
higher profit or returns on investment
additional income from licensing or assigning the patent
access to technology through cross-licensing
access to new markets
diminished risk of infringement
enhanced ability to obtain grants and/or raise funds at a reasonable rate of interest
positive image for your business
Source: A significant part of this is extracted from www.wipo.int from an electronic brochure titled “Understanding Industrial Property”. I refer any reader to this for a more detailed discussion.