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MAIN Arrow to Legal Advisor Home Legal Guide Arrow to Intellectual Property Law Intellectual Property Law Arrow to Inventions Inventions & Patents

Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

mousetrap patent, 1920
Mousetrap patent, 1920

When inventors invent something, they usually want to protect their unique idea from being copied and reused without their permission, and so to protect their invention they obtain a patent.

The exact rules and regulations of patents differ from country to country, although there are some international agreements that attempt to regularize the patent process. In some countries, for instance, intellectual property such as business models cannot be patented, while in other countries they can be.

How to obtain a patent

Generally speaking, the granting of a patent must fulfill three criteria.

  • The invention must be new.

  • The invention must be inventive, or what is called "non-obvious" in the United States.

  • And lastly, the invention must be useful or applicable in some way.

If an invention idea meets all these standards, it will generally receive a patent and all the legal protection that a patent provides. In the US, this generally entails the submission of drawings by the inventor that must show every feature of the invention; as well as a declaration, or "inventors oath" swearing them to be the original and first inventor of the subject matter of the patent application.

In most countries, the legal protection that a patent provides will last for 20 years, whereupon the invention becomes part of the public domain. A patent is in many ways treated legally like a piece of property. Patents can be bought and sold. They can also be mortgaged, licensed, or given away.

If a person or company infringes on a patent in some way, the patent holder can take the perpetrator to court and often win a monetary settlement based on how grievous the infringement was. It is in this way that patents are typically enforced by the courts.

Patent law controversies

Patent law is certainly necessary, but in some cases also has its share of criticism. Many people point out, for instance, that pharmaceutical patents allow drug companies to block the production of generic drugs and keep drug prices artificially high, preventing the people who most need those drugs from getting them.

In some particularly desperate third world countries for instance, patent laws have been ignored entirely and some drugs, like HIV treatments, are produced illegally. This of course violates patent laws, but raises some interesting questions, such as which kinds of inventions should be granted patents? What moral obligations do big corporations have if they put patent protection before the lives of the sick and poor?


More about inventions & patent law around the Web:

Just up ahead, learn more about patents at top sites offering insider tips on patent searches, how and where to complete applications online, typical submission costs, as well as broad overviews of patent law, invention history, and fun facts ....

United States Patent and Trademark Office - The official site offering how-to guides for filing inventions, copyrights and trademarks, facts and information on patent law, related searchable databases, resources & glossary.

World Intellectual Property Organization - International clearinghouse of facts and information on copyright law, trademarks, and industrial design, with a searchable database of international patents, related glossary, Webcasts.

IPWatchdogs - Invention to Patent 101 - An extensive online course with facts, information and guides to developing an invention idea, the do's and don'ts of patent applications, how to perform a patent search, detailed discussions on submission drawings, typical costs, and related case studies.

The Great Idea Finder - Learn more about the history of inventions including the famous, not-so-famous, and forgotten inventions throughout history, with top Web resources leading to related biographies, fun facts, and invention trivia.

The information provided on these pages is intended as reference
only and does not constitute professional legal advice.

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