A patent is a document protecting inventions, discoveries, and intellectual property. A patent entitles its owner to exclude others from using, making, selling, and importing an invention for a limited period of time, generally twenty years. Patent rights are guaranteed in exchange for a detailed public disclosure of the invention. In many countries patent rights are regulated by civil law and the holder of a patent needs to sue someone who infringes the patent in order to enforce his or her rights. In some sectors, patents are essential forms of competitive advantage; in others, they are unimportant.
The procedures for issuing patents, requirements imposed on the patentee, and the type of exclusive rights vary significantly from country to country depending on national laws and international agreements. Patent applications have to include one or more claims defining the invention and may contain a number of claims, each one describing a specific property right. These claims have to meet important requirements, such as novelty, usefulness, and non-obviousness.
Under the World Trade Organization’s TRIPS agreement (Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), patents have to be issued in all of the organization’s member states for any invention, in all fields of technology, provided that they are new, inventive, and suitable for industrial settings. The TRIPS agreement also states that the minimum term of protection available should be twenty years.