General information on patents

A patent is a right to exclude. The holder of a patent has the right to exclude others from commercial utilisation of the invention in accordance with his or her patent. Forms of commercial utilisation include such acts as making, selling, using and importing of a patented product (for further information see Patents Act, Section 3).

A patent aims at protecting the results of the research and development work of an enterprise or an individual inventor. It is a protective fence or insurance for intellectual property, in the way fences, locks and insurances protect physical property.

The right to exclude covers a restricted territory; it is in force in the countries where patent has been applied for and granted. The right to exclude is in force for a limited period of time, generally no longer than for 20 years from the filing date of the application. For a patent to remain in force, its holder must pay annual maintenance fees, so called renewal fees, for it.

A patent may be sold or licensed. In compensation the licensee pays the patent holder for instance a specified percentage of the income produced by the invention (royalty).

From government’s point of view the patent is a barter with the inventor. The inventor discloses his or her invention to the authority granting patents and gives his or her consent to making the invention available to the public after a certain period (usually 18 months from the filing date). In exchange he or she obtains the exclusive right to the invention for a specific period, provided the invention meets the requirements set for it by law.

The patent system aims at having inventions made available to the public. In the patent publications other companies and people (competitors) can read what has been invented already, and improve them or direct their research to other fields. This is a means of using R&D resources of businesses and society more effectively as the system removes the risk of “inventing the wheel twice".