What is a patent?

A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention. In other words, a patent is an exclusive right to a product or a process that generally provides a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. To get a patent, technical information about the invention must be disclosed to the public in a patent application.

The patent owner may give permission to, or license, other parties to use the invention on mutually agreed terms. The owner may also sell the right to the invention to someone else, who will then become the new owner of the patent. Once a patent expires, the protection ends, and an invention enters the public domain; that is, anyone can commercially exploit the invention without infringing the patent.

What rights does a patent provide?

A patent owner has the right to decide who may – or may not – use the patented invention for the period in which the invention is protected. In other words, patent protection means that the invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed, imported, or sold by others without the patent owner's consent.

What does it mean to “license a patent” and why is it done?

Licensing a patent simply means that the patent owner grants permission to another individual/organization to make, use, sell etc. his/her patented invention. This takes place according to agreed terms and conditions (for example, defining the amount and type of payment to be made by the licensee to the licensor), for a defined purpose, in a defined territory, and for an agreed period of time.

A patent owner may grant a license to a third party for many reasons. The patent owner may not have the necessary manufacturing facilities, for example, and therefore opts to allow others to make and sell his/her patented invention in return for “royalty” payments. Alternatively, a patent owner may have manufacturing facilities, but they may not be large enough to cover market demand. In this case, he/she may be interested in licensing the patent to another manufacturer in order to benefit from another income stream. Another possible situation is one in which the patent owner wishes to concentrate on one geographic market; therefore the patent owner may choose to grant a license to another individual/organization, with interests in other geographical markets. Entering into a licensing agreement can help to build a mutually-beneficial business relationship.

Can I obtain a patent and keep my invention secret?

No. Patents are granted by patent offices in exchange for a full disclosure of the invention. In general, the details of the invention are then published and made available to the public at large.

It should be noted that publication can take place at various stages of the procedure. In some countries, the patent document is only published after the granting of a patent. In other countries, patent applications are generally published 18 months from the filing date or, where priority has been claimed, the priority date (for more details, see the website of your national IP office).

How do I go about licensing my patent to a 3rd party?

Each situation is unique, so there is no one “correct” way to go about licensing a patent. In some countries, a patent applicant’s intention to grant a license to third parties can be published in the official gazette. To find out more, get in touch with your national IP office.

In general however, it is possible to say that if you intend to license your patent, what is important is diligent preparation. Before starting negotiation with a potential licensee, you should be informed of the current situation and future prospects of the relevant market and technology. Moreover, you should find out about the commercial state of a potential licensee and the associated financial value of your patent, etc. You should reflect on your own business objectives and carefully consider how entering into a licensing agreement fits into your short- and long-term business strategies.

Where can I find patent information?

Patent documents are published by national and regional patent offices, usually 18 months after the date on which a patent application was first filed or once a patent has been granted for the invention claimed by the patent applicant. Some patent offices publish patent documents through free-of-charge online databases, making it easier than ever to access patent information.

WIPO’s PATENTSCOPE database provides free-of-charge online access to millions of international patent applications filed under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) System as well as patent documents filed at national and regional patent offices such as the European Patent Office and the United States Patent and Trademark Office.


Courtesy of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)


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