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What are Patents?

What is it?

You may have wondered to yourself “exactly what are patents“? In simple terms a patent gives certain exclusive rights to an inventor for a period of time. In exchange, the inventor must disclose the invention in detail. The exclusive right that is granted is generally the right to prevent others from making, selling or distributing a patented invention without permission. Patents are a form of intellectual property.

Every country has different procedures and requirements for granting a patent. Even the rights granted vary from country to country. A patent application must include one or more claims that define the invention. The claims must meet requirements of being novel, useful and non-obvious.

The meaning of the Word

The word patent originates from the Latin patere, which means “to lay open” (i.e., to make available for public inspection). It is a shortened version of the term letters patent, which was a royal decree granting exclusive rights to a person, predating the modern patent system.

In modern usage, the term patent usually refers to the right granted to anyone who invents any new, useful, and non-obvious process, machine, article of manufacture, or composition of matter.

There are several types of patents such as utility patents, biological patents, business method patents, chemical patents and software patents.

A bit of History

Some form of patent rights was recognized in Ancient Greece but the first statutory patent system is generally regarded to be the Venetian Patent Statute of 1450. Patents were systematically granted in Venice as of 1450 . The period of protection was 10 years. These were mostly in the field of glass making. As Venetians emigrated, they sought similar patent protection in their new homes. This led to the diffusion of patent systems to other countries.

The English patent system evolved from its early medieval origins into the first modern patent system. This system recognized intellectual property in order to stimulate invention; this was the crucial legal foundation upon which the Industrial Revolution could emerge and flourish.

The English legal system became the foundation for patent law in countries with a common law heritage, including the United States. The Massachusetts General Court granted  the first patent to Samuel Winslow in 1641. It was for a new process for making salt.

The U.S. Congress passed the first Patent Act titled “An Act to promote the progress of useful Arts” on April 10, 1790. Samuel Hopkins was granted the first patent for a method of producing potash (potassium carbonate) on July 31, 1790.

You can find a detailed history of patent law here. Finally you know the answer to the question of “what are patents”.

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