What is a patent?

A patent is an agreement between a Government and an inventor (or assignee) where the inventor is granted a set of exclusive rights in exchange for detailed public disclosure of an invention, thereby stimulating research and development.  In return, the inventor is granted a time-limited monopoly on the invention.  Generally, the term of the monopoly is 20 years, but this can be extended in the case of certain pharmaceutical and veterinary products.

Patents confer the right to prevent third parties from making, using or selling the invention without their owners’ consent and the patent system is designed to encourage inventions that are unique and useful to society.

Can anything be patented ?

There are certain criteria to be met before you will be granted a patent. In most countries, your invention will have to be found to be novel (new), inventive (non-obvious), as well as being found to have a use (utility). In most European States a patent may not be obtained for certain subject matter, such as methods of treatment of the human or animal body, computer programs, business methods, and plant varieties.

How long does the process take?

There are several steps in the process which involves filing of the application, issuing of a search report by the Patent Office, publication of the application 18 months after filing, examination of the Application, and finally granting the patent.  This process generally takes between 3 and 5 years, depending on the country. However, in Ireland and certain other countries it is possible to obtain a patent without a substantive examination process. These patents are known as Short Term Patents, Utility Models, or Innovation Patents, and they generally have a lower requirement for inventive step, as well as having a shorter term of protection.

The procedure for granting patents, requirements placed on the patentee, and the extent of the exclusive rights vary between countries according to national laws and international agreements. Typically, however, a granted patent application must include one or more claims that define the invention. A patent may include many claims, each of which defines a specific property right. These claims must meet relevant patentability requirements, such as novelty, usefulness, and non-obviousness.

What should I do if I think I have a useful invention?

It is essential that you keep the details of the invention confidential, as any public disclosure of the invention prior to filing a patent application is likely to prejudice your chances of obtaining a valid patent in most countries in the world (the United States being one notable exception).

Patents should not be confused with the other kinds of intellectual property rights available which include: