A patent is a legal right granted by a sovereign authority to an inventor, giving them exclusive ownership of their process, design, or invention for a set period of time. This right is given in exchange for the inventor's disclosure of the invention, which allows others to benefit from the knowledge. Patents are a form of incorporeal law and are used to protect intellectual property and ensure profitability. The International Patent Classification (IPC) is used to classify patents according to the different areas of technology they relate to.
The USPTO receives over 500,000 patent applications each year, with just over 300,000 being granted. Plant patents are also available and are granted to anyone who discovers and invents a new type of plant capable of reproducing. Patent protection means that the invention cannot be manufactured, used, distributed, imported, or sold commercially by anyone other than the patent owner without their consent. This protection helps companies protect their investments in research and development (R&D).
Patents also serve as marketing for a company's innovation, such as Philo Taylor Farnsworth's television patent issued in 1930 for the first television system. The treaties administered by WIPO, together with national and regional laws, make up the international legal framework for patents. This framework includes an international system for classifying inventions in patent applications, allowing for more efficient search and retrieval of patent information. Inventors may be tempted to rush to apply for patent protection as soon as they come up with something new and revolutionary, but many experts suggest taking time to consider all options before doing so.
Without patents, drugs and other inventions could be duplicated and sold by companies that do not invest in R&D.