A Patent is a legal document issued by a country, giving the owner of an invention exclusivity (monopoly) on using the invention for a limited time period. A patent is an agreement between the owner of an invention and a specific country. By which the owner reveals the invention for everyone to see, and in return, gets an exclusive right to use the invention in that country for a limited time. The main purpose of patent protection is to encourage new invention by way of creative thinking and innovation. Then after a limited time in which the inventor and the owners of the patent enjoy the economical benefits of their exclusivity right the invention becomes public and everyone can benefit from it.
A patent is valid for 20 years
In the absolute majority of countries (including the US), a patent protection is valid for 20 years from the date the patent application was first submitted. After 20 years the patent is no longer protecting the inventor and its owners. Then the general public can use and benefit from the invention.
In the US, unlike the absolute majority of other countries in the world the inventor wins (and not the person first to file the patent application). This holds true as long as the inventor submits a patent application within one year from the day of invention.
A patent protects only in the countries in which it was approved
Registering a patent in a specific country protects the owner only within the borders of that country. In order to be protected in other countries the inventor must file for patent protection in each and every country where this protection is needed. On the other hand once a patent was published in any country, no one else can receive patent protection for the same invention in any other country. Only the owner of the patent in the initial country can file for patent protection in other countries, inside a predefined time frame.
A patent grants exclusive right to its owner
As stated above, the patent gives exclusive rights (monopoly) on using the invention to its owner. This means that no one except for the legal owner of a patent can use the invention for public or private use without first receiving permission from the owner. The patent only provides protection for clams detailed in the patent application and approved by the patent office. Anything else, that is not specifically listed and approved, is not protected.
There is a clear distinction between the inventor and the patent owner. The right derived from patent protection belong only to the patent owner. There are many laws and regulations dealing with patent ownership. One such major rule states that if employees of a company invented a patent as part of their employment in that company, they are listed as the inventors, but the company owns the patent and the rights that come with it.
Patent owner rights
The patent is the property (Asset) of the patent owner for a limited time. As with any other asset, the owner can sell it as a whole, or in pieces, for the entire duration or just a period of it. The owner can grant permissions to use the patent as he sees fit. As with any other asset, as soon as the owner "leases" it to any 3rd party it no longer owns it free and clear and cannot execute any action with it that contradicts the terms and conditions of his existing contract.
Patent protection approval terms - Innovation, Usefulness, Commercial usage, and Innovative progress
The law defines an invention whether product or process, as new, useful, that can be applied for commercial usage and that shows innovative progress. This means an invention must meet these criteria in order to be eligible for patent protection.
An invention must be innovative in the global sense. This means that if the invention was ever publicly published anywhere in the world before the date in which the patent application was submitted - the invention cannot be protected by a patent.
Any publication of an invention, anywhere in the world, by verbally, orally or visually describing the invention. Products and usage is also considered prior publication if they describe the invention. The laws do not specify who the publishing party is so even if the inventor published his invention it is considered prior publication. This is why it is very important that inventors do not make their inventions public before applying for the proper protection.
The laws clearly state that a general reference to the invention is not enough to be considered prior publication. A prior publication enables a professional to create the invention and use it. Despite that, any mentioning of the process or the existence of a product allowing a professional to create the invention, prevent it from being protected by a patent.
Often inventors mistake by thinking that a small modification or change to an existing idea allows them to receive patent protection. However the condition of innovative progress is designed to prevent such cases. The law defines innovative progress as a progress that does not seem trivial to an average professional aware of all relevant prior publications.
This means that in order to be eligible for patent protection innovation is not enough, there has to be innovative progress as well. This means that the progress has to be true and substantial.
Note that an invention may lack innovative progress based on a combination of several prior publications. As long as the existence of these prior publications make it trivial for an average professional to create the invention.
The question of innovative progress constantly challenges patent examiners when approving or denying any patent application. What might be trivial for one professional may not be so trivial to another professional. For that reason the law addresses a fictional professional which represents all professionals in the respective field of any invention. So that for an invention combining a GPS device and shoes, an electronics engineer which is also a shoe maker is considered to be that professional. The examiners assume that the professional is aware of all relevant prior publications and therefore assume if he would consider the invention trivial or as having innovative progress.
Legal status vs. commercial application and use
The eligibility of an invention to be protected by patent and the ability to manufacture and sell it are two completely separate questions.
Many inventions are improvements upon older inventions sometimes relaying on multiple valid patents. In such cases, the invention can be protected by patent, but its commercial use will require use of all the other patents it relays on.
For example an inventor of an innovative mouse button, may be eligible to protect his invention by patent - no one but him is allowed to create a mouse with the specific unique button. However in order to produce such a mouse the inventor will need to have the rights to the mouse patent (assuming that its not expired). Without the rights to produce a mouse the inventor cannot produce his invention which is the mouse with the unique button.
Similarly, combining several inventions into one product. The combination might be unique and patentable, but in order to produce the product, many other patent rights are needed.
Patent application document sections
As a general rule, each country has its own tradition when it comes to the stricture of its patent application documents. Recently due to globalization and the information revolution most countries will incorporate most or all of the following sections in their patent application forms:
- Title - The invention name as given by the inventor
- Summery - A short summery explaining the purpose of the invention and describing it briefly
- Description - A full, detailed description of the invention in a non-legal language, enabling others to create the invention
- Drawings - Exists to support the description, its simplicity, and understanding. It is important that the drawings do not limit the product to one use or the other.
- Claims - A clear definition of the elements for which the inventor requests protection. This section describes what is being protected and what is not, after the application is approved.