What is a patent?


A patent is, in essence, a monopoly granted by the law to an inventor in exchange for full public disclosure of the invention. It then becomes a public document that fully discloses the details of the invention so that others can duplicate the invention; however, the patent holder retains the sole right to exclude others from making, selling, using, or importing the invention.

Over the decades, the period for which this monopolistic right was granted to an inventor has varied. Today, in India it is for a period of 20 years. At the end of the patent life, the patent owner loses the monopolistic right and the invention falls into the public domain for anyone to make, sell, or import.

Many requirements must be met in order for an invention or technical discovery to be considered patentable, but most important of all they should all mandatorily be novel, useful, and not obvious to a person skilled in the art.

Negative Rights

When a patent is granted by the law, it gives the inventor the right to exclude others from manufacturing, usage, sale, or importing the invention into the territory of that particular country which has granted the patent. It gives the patent holder the right to exclude others from practicing these activities for the entire term of the patent.

Types of Patents:

There are two basic types of patents:

  1. Utility patents: These are granted inventions or discoveries of any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture, system (or method of use), or any new, useful improvement thereof.
  2. Design patents: These are granted to anyone who invents a new, original, ornamental design for an article of manufacture.[i]

Patent protection can also be classified into two:

Product Patents – These patents are easy to identify because they refer to the physical product itself. Product patents may also consist of devices, apparatuses, or an entire group of associated products.

Process Patents – Process patents generally refer to manufacturing processes. They typically improve productivity, reduce defects, or offer some value-added quality. These patents are of primary importance to the manufacturing sector. One of the best examples of a process patent is that which was patented by Louis Pasteur of France, in 1873. It revealed the fundamentals of the food sterilization process now known as pasteurization.

Process patents can also be a valuable tool to overcome another emerging danger. At times, companies maintain certain manufacturing processes as closely guarded trade secrets; however, if an outside entity files a patent application that covers that trade secret, the company can lose the rights to the trade secret i.e. the company holding the trade secret would be forced to license its own manufacturing process from the new patent holder, regardless of how long the process had been in prior use. Thus, companies are now encouraged to reveal the process to the world in return for assured monopoly over the process for 20 years. This way others can improve on the process and the process remains free in public domain for use after 20 years.

[i] Ashok Yakkaldevi, Satyaprakash Singh, Library Information Science & Technology for Information Society


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