General information on patents
With thanks to the World Intellectual Property Organization, the following general information on patents and patent applications is given:
A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. In order to be patentable, the invention must fulfill certain conditions (please see the answer to the question below " what kinds of inventions can be patented?").
A patent provides protection for the invention to the owner of the patent, in the form of an exclusive right. The protection is granted for a limited period, generally 20 years.
Note however that a patent does NOT grant the owner the right to apply the claimed invention, but “only” gives the right to exclude others from applying the claimed invention. Be aware of the fact that earlier patents may limit an owner of applying an invention claimed in its own patent!
Patent protection means that the invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed, kept in store or sold without the patent owner's consent. These patent rights are usually enforced in a court, which, in most systems, holds the authority to stop patent infringement. Conversely, a court can also declare a patent invalid upon a successful challenge by a third party.
A patent owner has the right to decide who may - or may not - use the patented invention for the period in which the invention is protected. 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, the owner no longer holds exclusive rights to the invention, which becomes available to commercial exploitation by others.
Patents provide incentives to individuals by offering them recognition for their creativity and material
reward for their marketable inventions. These incentives encourage innovation, which assures that the quality of human life is continuously enhanced. What Role do Patents Play in Everyday Life?
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).
All patent owners are obliged, in return for patent protection, to publicly disclose information on their invention in order to enrich the total body of technical knowledge in the world. Such an ever-increasing body of public knowledge promotes further creativity and innovation in others. In this way, patents provide not only protection for the owner but valuable information and inspiration for future generations of researchers and inventors.
The first step in securing a patent is the filing of a patent application. The patent application generally contains the title of the invention, as well as an indication of its technical field; it must include the background and a description of the invention, in clear language and enough detail that an individual 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. The application also contains various "claims", that is, information which determines the extent of protection granted by the patent.
An invention must, in general, fulfill the following conditions to be protected by a patent. It must be of
practical use; it 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 show an inventive step which could not be deduced by a person with average knowledge of the technical field. Finally, its subject matter must be accepted as "patentable" under law. In many countries, scientific theories, mathematical methods, plant or animal varieties, discoveries of natural substances, commercial methods, or methods for medical treatment (as opposed to medical products) are generally not patentable.
A patent is granted by a national patent office or by a regional office that does the work for a number of countries, such as the European Patent Office and the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization. Under such regional systems, an applicant requests protection for the invention in one or more countries, and each country decides as to whether to offer patent protection within its borders. The WIPO-administered Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) provides for the filing of a single international patent application which has the same effect as national applications filed in the designated countries. An applicant seeking protection may file one application and request protection in as many signatory states as needed.
At present, no world patents or international patents exist.
In general, an application for a patent must be filed, and a patent shall be granted and enforced, in each country in which you seek patent protection for your invention, in accordance with the law of that country. 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, which have the same effect as applications filed, or patents granted, in the member States of that region.
Further, any resident or national of a Contracting State of the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) may file an international application under the PCT. A single international patent application has the same effect as national applications filed in each designated Contracting State of the PCT. However, under the PCT system, in order to obtain patent protection in the designated States, a patent shall be granted by each designated State to the claimed invention contained in the international application. Further information concerning the PCT is available.
Procedural and substantive requirements for the grant of patents as well as the amount of fees required are different from one country/region to the other. It is therefore recommend that you consult a practicing lawyer who is specialized in intellectual property or the intellectual property offices of those countries in which you are interested to get protection.
It is important to file a patent application before publicly disclosing the details of the invention. In general, any invention which is made public before an application is filed would be considered prior art (although the definition of the term "prior art" is not unified at the international level, in many countries, it consists of any information which has been made available to the public anywhere in the world by written or oral disclosure). In countries which apply the above definition of the term "prior art", the applicant's public disclosure of the invention prior to filing a patent application would prevent him/her from obtaining a valid patent for that invention, since such invention would not comply with the novelty requirement. Some countries, however, allow for a grace period, which provides a safeguard for applicants who disclosed their inventions before filing a patent application, and the novelty criteria may be interpreted differently depending on the applicable law.
If it is inevitable to disclose your invention to, for example, a potential investor or a business partner, before filing a patent application, such a disclosure should be accompanied by a confidentiality agreement.
At the sites listed below you will find worthwhile information on Intellectual Property, especially patents.
General information on intellectual property, including patents, can amongst others, be found at:
The website of the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), a specialized agency of the United Nations
The website of the European Patent Office (EPO)
The website of NL Octrooicentrum, part of Agentschap NL (information in Dutch and English available)
General information on trademarks and designs can, amongst others, be found at:
The website of the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP)
The website of OHIM, the European Union agency responsible for registering trade marks and designs that are valid in all 27 countries of the EU
Published patent applications and patents can be searched, amongst others, with:
Search engine, including full text search abilities, for searching international patent applications (so-called PCT-applications)
Search engine for searching patents and patent applications worldwide (more than 70 million patent documents), including European, US, and PCT-applications
European patent register which contains published European patents and patent applications
US patent register, including full text search abilities, with different databases for US patent applications and granted US patents
Google search engine with over 7 million US patents
Dutch patent register which includes published Dutch patents and patent applications
www.agentschapnl.nl Department of economical affairs of the Dutch government
www.octrooigemachtigde.nl Website of Dutch Patent Attorney Association
www.patentepi.com Website of the Institute of Professional Representatives before the European Patent Office
www.novu.nl Dutch order of inventors, practical information for inventors
www.fablab.nl For information on making prototypes