A patent is a type of intellectual property (IP) protection that grants an exclusive right to make, use, import, or sell an invention. Patents are granted by sovereign governments and provide inventors a limited period of time to benefit from newly created products or processes while preventing others from copying the invention without permission from the inventor.
To receive a patent, an inventor must apply to the relevant office within a sovereign government. For example, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is responsible for issuing patents within the United States. In the application process, inventors must publicly disclose technical and other details regarding their invention. Inventions must be clearly described, novel, and non-obvious for a patent to be granted. Patent applications include design drawings of the invention for which protection is sought.
Patent protection is generally granted for twenty years from the filing date of the application.
Internationally, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) is the leading body for patent governance. WIPO is a specialized agency of the United Nations and serves as the global forum for IP services, policy, information, and cooperation. WIPO memberships include 193 sovereign nations and 250 observers from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and intergovernmental organizations (IGOs). WIPO's mandate, governing bodies, and procedures are established in the Convention Establishing the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO Convention) of 1967.
First signed in 1977, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) is an international treaty that includes 156 nations as parties as of 2022. The PCT provides inventors with a path to seek patent protection in multiple countries by filing a single international patent application instead of filing several separate national or regional patent applications.
Although the PCT process can expedite review at the national and regional levels, the granting of patents remains under the control of the national or regional patent offices.
WIPO's PATENTSCOPE database provides access to international PCT applications as well as to patent documents of participating national and regional patent offices.
In general, the patent rights only apply in the country or region in which a patent has been filed and granted, in accordance with the law of that country or region.
Although patents were envisioned to foster innovation by providing protection for innovators, some economists argue that larger companies sometimes use patents to block new entrants into a particular market, and therefore stifle innovation. Others have argued that abuse of the patent system has caused price inflation in many industries.
Basics of IP Blog Series #3: A Brief History of Patents
January 25, 2021
General information concerning patents
Lecture 01 - The History and Theory of Patents
January 6, 2015
Lecture 2: The History of Patents
March 1, 2017