A patent protects inventions of new products and processes, i.e. how new products are made or how new processes work. An invention should be kept secret until a patent has been granted for it.
An invention must:
Be new, ie not part of the ‘prior art’; involve an inventive step, i.e. it must not be obvious to someone with knowledge and experience of the product or process and be capable of industrial application.
If a patent is granted, the owner is entitled exclusively to manufacture, sell or use the product or process, or to license a third party to do so and is entitled to take action to restrain others from making, using, importing or selling the invention without the patent owner’s permission.
It is possible to obtain the grant of a national patent, or a ‘European’ or worldwide patent. There are plans to have a new ‘unitary European patent’, a single patent covering most of the countries of the European Union.
Patent protection is for up to 20 years.