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Patent point

Written by Tim Mount on 24 January 2010

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Patent point

24 January 2010

Not everyone understands what the point of a patent system.

What is a patent? Well, simple terms.. a patent is a monopoly right over the invention that is claimed in the application. That is, the pictures and words of the application describe an invention and the Patent Offices of the world believe that that invention is unique, revolutionary and the person who came up with it first, and generally who filed it first, has the sole right to the use of that invention for 20 years from the date it is filed.

On the face of it patents are about single people or heinously corporations monopolising ideas that could benefit a much greater proportion of the population. But on another level patents are in the public interest. The patent system works, perversely it may seem to the uninitiated, to persuade inventors to disclose their inventions.

If there was not a system to monetise inventions and more importantly to make it worthwhile for inventors to disclose their inventions we would, it is argued, be the worse off.

It may have its opponents, particularly when it comes to the pharmalogical world but the theory goes that by offering limited monopoly rights, i.e., a patent encourages innovation. Patents are good public policy, as promotion for the progress of technology.

But again perversely, whilst a patent gets the idea out there, patents do not give the rights to practice the patented invention.

A patent confers not a single positive right. Patents confer strictly negative or exclusionary rights; that is a patent gives the patentee the right to exclude others from using, making, selling, offering for sale or importing the patented invention.

What a well-drafted granted patent gives you, as has been said by better men than me, is the right to sue for infringement. Which sometimes gets patent owners a bad name - patent trolls.

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