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The ideas behind patents

3 February 2006 by Ch. Tronche | Filed under IP.

We should remember today why the patents, what are the fundamental ideas behind them (as opposed to the way they’re used, that is, the how-tos of patents).

What is a patent ?

A patent is a law-granted monopoly.

Why patents ?

  • Patents are an incentive to create, and as such, a tool for policy makers
    • By granting patent holders a temporary monopoly, they can get better-than-competitive-market profitability, and thus get an incentive in innovating more. This idea’s the basis for economical analysis of patent policies.
  • Patents protect small innovators from being stolen by big business.
  • Patents buy small innovators time to develop their inventions (very much like “moral rights” in the french author rights system)
  • Patents help the diffusion of the knowledge
    • The idea is that, without patents, the inventor may be tempted to keep its invention secret to protect it, thus making the invention lost for the human kind (potentially)

How do you get a patent ?

You fill some papers at the patent office, describing the invention in such a way that someone “skilled in the art” can reproduce it, claiming what’s supposed to be new, what you want a monopoly for, and other informations.

And you pay (important thing).

The office then “examines” the patent. Here, the examination means different things in different countries. In any contry, the patent’s gonna be read by someone, who tries to assert if it’s “reasonnable”. For example, if you try to get a patent for a perpetual motion machine, chances are that your patent will get rejected. Some formal checkings are made, for example I believe that, in the US, patents can only be granted to individuals, not organizations. In some countries, a prior art search is made (the office tries to assert the novelty of your patent). In other countries, there’s no such search, and the burden of the prior art search rests on you, the patent applicant (very much like in the trade mark system).

At some point, your patent gets registered.

What then ?

An important thing is that, whatever the patent office says, any interested party can go to court after your patent registration and claims your patent is invalid because for example, lack or novelty, or infriging a previous patent.

This raises the interesting question of how much money’s a brand new patent worth (close to zero, if you followed this last paragraph).

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