What is a patent?

A patent is a legal document granting an inventor the exclusive right to make, use, and sell an invention for a certain period of time, typically 20 years from the filing date of the patent application.

Patents are designed to encourage innovation by providing inventors with a way to protect their ideas and prevent others from using, selling, or profiting from their inventions without permission. In return for this protection, inventors must publicly disclose the details of their invention in the patent application, which enables others to build on their work in the future.

To obtain a patent, an inventor must file a patent application with a government patent office, such as the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) or the European Patent Office (EPO). The application must include a detailed description of the invention, as well as any relevant drawings or diagrams, and explain how the invention is new, useful, and non-obvious compared to existing technology in the field. If the patent office determines that the invention meets these criteria and does not infringe on existing patents, it will grant the inventor a patent.

Patents in the United States

In the United States, a utility patent (which covers new and useful processes, machines, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter) is valid for 20 years from the patent application’s filing date, provided maintenance fees are paid to keep the patent in force.

Design patents (which cover new, original, and ornamental designs for an article of manufacture) are valid for 15 years from the grant date without needing maintenance fees.

It’s important to note that the term of a patent can be affected by various factors, such as delays in the patent office or legal challenges to the validity of the patent. Additionally, patents can be invalidated if they are found to be not novel, non-obvious, or not useful, or if there are errors or omissions in the patent application.

Patents in Europe

In Europe, a patent granted by the European Patent Office (EPO) is valid for a maximum of 20 years from the patent application’s filing date, provided that annual renewal fees are paid to keep the patent in force.

It’s important to note that the European patent system differs from that of the United States and has some regional variations. For example, some European countries offer supplementary protection certificates (SPCs) that can extend the duration of a patent for certain pharmaceutical and plant protection products by up to five years. Additionally, there are some differences in the criteria for patentability and the patent examination process between the US and Europe.