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The additional qualification utility patent is sometimes used primarily in the US to distinguish the primary meaning from these other types of patents. Particular species of patents for inventions include biological patents , business method patents , chemical patents and software patents. Although there is some evidence that some form of patent rights was recognized in Ancient Greece in the Greek city of Sybaris , [8] [9] the first statutory patent system is generally regarded to be the Venetian Patent Statute of Patents were systematically granted in Venice as of , where they issued a decree by which new and inventive devices had to be communicated to the Republic in order to obtain legal protection against potential infringers.

The period of protection was 10 years. This led to the diffusion of patent systems to other countries. The English patent system evolved from its early medieval origins into the first modern patent system that recognised intellectual property in order to stimulate invention; this was the crucial legal foundation upon which the Industrial Revolution could emerge and flourish.

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This was incorporated into the Statute of Monopolies in which Parliament restricted the Crown's power explicitly so that the King could only issue letters patent to the inventors or introducers of original inventions for a fixed number of years. The Statute became the foundation for later developments in patent law in England and elsewhere. Important developments in patent law emerged during the 18th century through a slow process of judicial interpretation of the law. During the reign of Queen Anne , patent applications were required to supply a complete specification of the principles of operation of the invention for public access.


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The English legal system became the foundation for patent law in countries with a common law heritage, including the United States, New Zealand and Australia. In the Thirteen Colonies , inventors could obtain patents through petition to a given colony's legislature. In , Samuel Winslow was granted the first patent in North America by the Massachusetts General Court for a new process for making salt. The modern French patent system was created during the Revolution in Patent costs were very high from to 1, francs.

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Importation patents protected new devices coming from foreign countries. The patent law was revised in - patent cost was lowered and importation patents were abolished. The first Patent Act of the U. Congress was passed on April 10, , titled "An Act to promote the progress of useful Arts". A revised patent law was passed in , and in a major revision to the patent law was passed. The law instituted a significantly more rigorous application process, including the establishment of an examination system.

Between and about ten thousand patents were granted.

Essentials of Patents

By the American Civil War about 80, patents had been granted. A patent does not give a right to make or use or sell an invention. From an economic and practical standpoint however, a patent is better and perhaps more precisely regarded as conferring upon its proprietor "a right to try to exclude by asserting the patent in court", for many granted patents turn out to be invalid once their proprietors attempt to assert them in court.

Like any other property right, it may be sold, licensed, mortgaged , assigned or transferred, given away, or simply abandoned. A patent, being an exclusionary right, does not necessarily give the patent owner the right to exploit the invention subject to the patent. For example, many inventions are improvements of prior inventions that may still be covered by someone else's patent.

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Some countries have "working provisions" that require the invention be exploited in the jurisdiction it covers. Consequences of not working an invention vary from one country to another, ranging from revocation of the patent rights to the awarding of a compulsory license awarded by the courts to a party wishing to exploit a patented invention. The patentee has the opportunity to challenge the revocation or license, but is usually required to provide evidence that the reasonable requirements of the public have been met by the working of invention.

In most jurisdictions, there are ways for third parties to challenge the validity of an allowed or issued patent at the national patent office; these are called opposition proceedings. It is also possible to challenge the validity of a patent in court. In either case, the challenging party tries to prove that the patent should never have been granted. There are several grounds for challenges: the claimed subject matter is not patentable subject matter at all; the claimed subject matter was actually not new, or was obvious to experts in the field, at the time the application was filed; or that some kind of fraud was committed during prosecution with regard to listing of inventors, representations about when discoveries were made, etc.

Patents can be found to be invalid in whole or in part for any of these reasons. Patent infringement occurs when a third party, without authorization from the patentee, makes, uses, or sells a patented invention. Patents, however, are enforced on a nation by nation basis. The making of an item in China, for example, that would infringe a U.

Patents can generally only be enforced through civil lawsuits for example, for a U. To prove infringement, the patent owner must establish that the accused infringer practises all the requirements of at least one of the claims of the patent. In many jurisdictions the scope of the patent may not be limited to what is literally stated in the claims, for example due to the doctrine of equivalents. An accused infringer has the right to challenge the validity of the patent allegedly being infringed in a counterclaim.

A patent can be found invalid on grounds described in the relevant patent laws, which vary between countries. Often, the grounds are a subset of requirements for patentability in the relevant country. Although an infringer is generally free to rely on any available ground of invalidity such as a prior publication , for example , some countries have sanctions to prevent the same validity questions being relitigated. An example is the UK Certificate of contested validity.

It is common for companies engaged in complex technical fields to enter into multiple license agreements associated with the production of a single product. Moreover, it is equally common for competitors in such fields to license patents to each other under cross-licensing agreements in order to share the benefits of using each other's patented inventions. In most countries, both natural persons and corporate entities may apply for a patent. In the United States, however, only the inventor s may apply for a patent although it may be assigned to a corporate entity subsequently [26] and inventors may be required to assign inventions to their employers under an employment contract.

In most European countries, ownership of an invention may pass from the inventor to their employer by rule of law if the invention was made in the course of the inventor's normal or specifically assigned employment duties, where an invention might reasonably be expected to result from carrying out those duties, or if the inventor had a special obligation to further the interests of the employer's company.

The inventors, their successors or their assignees become the proprietors of the patent when and if it is granted.


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If a patent is granted to more than one proprietor, the laws of the country in question and any agreement between the proprietors may affect the extent to which each proprietor can exploit the patent. For example, in some countries, each proprietor may freely license or assign their rights in the patent to another person while the law in other countries prohibits such actions without the permission of the other proprietor s.

The ability to assign ownership rights increases the liquidity of a patent as property. Inventors can obtain patents and then sell them to third parties. The grant and enforcement of patents are governed by national laws, and also by international treaties, where those treaties have been given effect in national laws. Patents are granted by national or regional patent offices. In other words, patent law is territorial in nature.

When a patent application is published, the invention disclosed in the application becomes prior art and enters the public domain if not protected by other patents in countries where a patent applicant does not seek protection, the application thus generally becoming prior art against anyone including the applicant who might seek patent protection for the invention in those countries.

Commonly, a nation or a group of nations forms a patent office with responsibility for operating that nation's patent system, within the relevant patent laws.

The patent office generally has responsibility for the grant of patents, with infringement being the remit of national courts. The authority for patent statutes in different countries varies. In the UK, substantive patent law is contained in the Patents Act as amended. There is a trend towards global harmonization of patent laws, with the World Trade Organization WTO being particularly active in this area. This has also led to many developing nations, which may historically have developed different laws to aid their development, enforcing patents laws in line with global practice. Internationally, there are international treaty procedures, such as the procedures under the European Patent Convention EPC [constituting the European Patent Organisation EPOrg ], that centralize some portion of the filing and examination procedure.

A key international convention relating to patents is the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property , initially signed in The Paris Convention sets out a range of basic rules relating to patents, and although the convention does not have direct legal effect in all national jurisdictions, the principles of the convention are incorporated into all notable current patent systems.

What is a Patent

The most significant aspect of the convention is the provision of the right to claim priority : filing an application in any one member state of the Paris Convention preserves the right for one year to file in any other member state, and receive the benefit of the original filing date. The Patent Cooperation Treaty provides a unified procedure for filing patent applications to protect inventions in each of its contracting states. A patent is requested by filing a written application at the relevant patent office.