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What is a Patent?

A patent is a type of intellectual property (IP) – a creation of the mind – that a person or group of people invent. Patents are legal documents with binding terms and conditions that give exclusive rights to the owner for up to 20 years. A patent protects an innovation from infringement during this period, allowing the inventor to secure financing, create licenses for others’ use, sell or trade it, or otherwise assist in strategic business thinking

In the United States, there are three types of patents: utility, design, and plant. A utility patent is for processes, machines, manufactured articles, compositions, or an improvement on an existing patent; a design patent is for a design on a manufactured article; and a plant patent is for asexually reproduced distinct or new plant varieties.

To ensure a patent’s success, conducting a thorough patent search is vital, whether to look for existing patents, potential areas of overlap, or what to consider during the innovation process.

It’s also important to consider the geographical jurisdiction in which the patent is filed, as there is no global coverage, and the patent must be filed in individual countries. For example, a Google patent search might uncover global results, while the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) might be limited to local results. To simplify and organize this process, identical patents filed in multiple locations are grouped as a simple family.

Patents that are similar, but not identical, are grouped into a collection called International Patent Documentation (INPADOC) and form an extended family.

Other Terms for Patent:

  • Copyright
  • License
  • Permit
  • Franchise
  • Registered trademark
  • Brand name
  • Legal protection

Why is a Patent Important?

Patents are important because they offer legal protection and exclusive rights to the owner for up to 20 years, which starts as soon as the owner files the application. This time period gives the owner a competitive advantage where a rival is discouraged from infringement.

A patent can also provide revenue, whether from directly profiting through commercial exploitation, selling licenses, securing funding, selling or transferring the patent, attracting investment attention, or affecting internal business decisions and strategies.

To ensure applying for a patent is an efficient use of time and money, conducting a thorough patent search is essential. This enables the owner to find existing patents or gaps, possible partners, areas in which to improve or abandon, and other associated innovators.