Patent law is the branch of intellectual property law that deals with new inventions.
Traditional patentsprotect tangible scientific creations, such as circuit boards, car engines, heating coils or zippers. A patent is a property right that gives the inventor the legal capacity to prevent others from making, using, or selling an invention for a specified period of time. Patent law provides protection to new inventions, which may be products, processes or designs, and provides a mechanism for safeguarding the invention.
Patent law encourages the exchange of new advances with others to promote innovation. The patent holder has the right to protect others from the production, use, distribution or import of the protected item. Essentially, a patent is a property right that can be licensed, sold, mortgaged, or transferred. However, in general, a patent application must include one or more claims that define the scope of protection being sought. It is generally accepted that the first legal patent system was the Venice Patent Statute of 1474. In Chakrabarty, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress intended the patentable object to include anything created by man under the Sun. During Queen Anne's reign, patent applications were required to provide a complete specification of the operating principles of the invention for public access.
Therefore, a given patent is only useful to protect an invention in the country where that patent is granted. In 1641, the Massachusetts General Court granted Samuel Winslow the first patent in North America for a new salt-making process. Once the patentee sells the patented item, they relinquish patent rights to that item even if it is resold. The Patent Cooperation Treaty establishes a unified procedure for filing patent applications in order to protect inventions in each of its contracting states, in addition to giving owners a 30-month priority for applications as opposed to Rule 12 granted by the Paris Convention. Each patent application received by the PTO is examined by a patent examiner in the order in which it is received.
Since there are so many patents, it's difficult to innovate without risking a patent infringement lawsuit. For example, minerals, materials, genes, facts, organisms and biological processes cannot be patented but if someone were to apply an ingenious and not obvious step to synthesize something new then the result could be patentable. A patent may be declared invalid for reasons described in relevant patent laws which vary from country to country. When a patent application is published, the invention disclosed in the application becomes public domain (if it is not protected by other patents) in countries where the applicant for a patent does not seek protection so it becomes technical knowledge against any person (including the applicant) who could apply for protection of the invention in those countries. Jurists, economists, activists, policy makers, industries and commercial organizations have held different views on patents and have participated in controversial debates on this subject.
A patent being an exclusive right does not necessarily grant its owner with the right to exploit the invention that is subject of said patent. The patentee waives their rights to that item even if they and the initial purchaser sign a contract explicitly stating that they would retain their rights to said item.