What is a Patent? A Clear & Easy Guide To Understanding Patents

What is a Patent? A Clear & Easy Guide To Understanding Patents

Have you ever had an idea for an invention, product or process that you thought had the potential to break boundaries and change the world? If you have, you are not alone! There are so many individuals and organisations that have revolutionary ideas, but not everyone knows how to protect them.

This is where patents come into play. So, what exactly is a patent? In this guide, we will explain everything you need to know about patents, as simply as possible.

Table of Contents

Patent Definition

Patent definition and meaning

A patent is the exclusive right granted for an invention, process, or product that is new, useful, and non-obvious. This right allows the inventor to prevent others from making, using, selling, or importing the invention without their permission for a specified period of time.

In exchange for obtaining a patent, the inventor must publicly disclose the details of their invention so that others can learn from it and build upon it after the patent term expires.

Key Takeaways

  • Patents are an essential part of the intellectual property rights landscape and have been instrumental in promoting innovation across industries.
  • They can be applied to a new idea, invention, or process that has not been created before, regardless of its form.
  • When you file for a patent, you gain exclusive rights to your invention for several years, depending on the type of patent you have filed.
  • This means that no one else can create, use, sell, or import your protected intellectual property without your permission.
  • Whilst there are a number of benefits to holding a patent, and having the exclusive rights to your invention, there are numerous costs associated with applying for a patent.
  • Intellectual property law is similar across the globe, but there are small differences and nuances e.g. law in the UK compared to law in the US,
  • Patent search software is a useful and important tool in analysing intellectual property and identifying opportunities in the market.

What are the Different Types of Patent?

Inventors will need to apply for different kinds of patents depending on the nature of their invention and what aspects they want to protect. Different types of patents protect functional features, others protect design elements, and so on. Here are the most common types of patents, and what they protect.

Utility Patent

When people think about patents, they are most likely thinking about a utility patent. Known as the “patent for invention”, utility patents protect all functional features of new/improved products, processes, machines, or compositions of matter.

  • Products/Article of Manufacture – a physical item designed and manufactured for sale.
  • Processes – a series of methodical steps or actions taken to achieve a particular outcome.
  • Machines – products that use mechanical power and are built from several parts e.g. a computer, or a coffee machine.
  • Compositions of matter – materials made of two or more different substances.

Design Patent

Coca Cola bottles, indicating what a design patent might be used for.

A design patent protects the unique visual qualities (or surface ornamentation) of a product or invention, meaning that this cannot be replicated without the permission of the patent holder. Examples include company logos, and design features of products such as the shape of the Coca Cola bottle.

Plant Patents

Plant patents are one that not many people consider when discussing intellectual property, however, they are more common than you might expect. This type of patent protects the invention or discovery of a new, distinctive plant. In order for a new plant to be eligible for patent protection, it must be capable of asexual reproduction. Plants that are naturally occuring in the wild cannot be patented, but those cultivated in private spaces can be.

Provisional Patents

A provisional patent gives an inventor quick and cheap legal protection and rights on their invention or idea for a short period of time – usually 12 months. This allows the holder of the patent to test and work with their product or concept before deciding to apply for a full patent.

Some ideas have the potential to be protected by multiple types of patents, allowing particularly sharp inventors to safeguard their concepts more comprehensively by applying for each relevant patent.

Who Can Own a Patent?

Entrepreneur facing the camera and smiling.

Anyone has the right to file a patent application and own a patent, as long as they are the true inventor, as well as the first person or organisation to do so. These rules are in place to protect the rightful innovators and reward those who come up with new ideas.

What is Patentable?

In order for a product, process, or other invention to be patentable, it must be considered new, unique, useful, and non-obvious. Criteria such as uniqueness and non-obviousness can be difficult to judge, which is why it’s important to carry out a comprehensive patent search with the help of an expert in order to assess patentability.

In order for an invention to be labelled as unique or novel, it must fulfil two criteria. Firstly, it should be something that can be seen as unexpected or surprising within the industry. As such, secondly, it should be something that couldn’t have been anticipated following a review of existing technology and documentation.

What Are The Advantages of a Patent?

A light bulb placed in front of a blue and yellow background.

Patents offer a huge amount of protection to their holders, as well as offering a number of key benefits that can help them reap the rewards of their inventions. Here are some of the main advantages of apply for patents and formulating an effective IP strategy:

Exclusive Rights

A patent grants its holder exclusive rights to their invention for a limited period of time, typically 20 years from the filing date. This exclusivity empowers inventors to prevent others from making, using, selling, or importing their patented invention without their consent. It provides a legal framework that safeguards the investment of time, effort, and resources made by inventors.

Market Advantage

Securing a patent provides inventors with a significant competitive advantage. It allows them to differentiate their products or processes from those of their competitors, creating barriers to entry for others looking to exploit similar ideas. Patents can help businesses establish a strong market presence and position themselves as leaders in their respective fields.

Financial Benefits

Patents offer substantial financial benefits to inventors and businesses. The exclusive rights provided by a patent enable inventors to licence their technology to third parties, generating revenue through royalties. Licensing agreements can provide a steady income stream, particularly if the patented invention is ground-breaking and in high demand.

Legal Deterrents

Patents act as legal deterrents, discouraging potential infringers from unlawfully using an inventor’s intellectual property. In the event that someone does infringe upon a patented invention, the patent holder can take legal action to enforce their rights and seek appropriate compensation. The patent system offers a robust mechanism to protect inventors against infringement, allowing them to defend their innovative ideas and investments.

What is the Patent Application Process?

Patent application form marked as approved.

The patent application process involves several stages, from initial preparation and research, to filing the paperwork. Here is a short overview of the process of patenting an idea:

  • Determine if patent protection is suitable for your invention.
  • Work out if your invention meets the criteria for patentability.
  • Utilise patent search software to examine existing patents and similar inventions.
  • Identify the specific type of patent that suits your invention. Prepare a thorough application and submit it.
  • Promptly address any actions or inquiries from the patent office.
  • After obtaining the granted patent, ensure you maintain it appropriately and enforce it as necessary.

How Much Does a Patent Cost?

Inventor seeking advice from a patent attorney.

Securing a patent is an essential step for inventors and innovators looking to protect and profit from their inventions. However, there are numerous costs associated with the process. By understanding the cost of applying for and maintaining a patent, inventors can better plan and budget for the future.

Patent Application Fees

The exact cost of a patent application varies depending on the type of patent you are seeking and the jurisdiction you are filing in. Utility, Design, and Plant patents all have different fee structures:

Utility Patent Cost

Generally, the cost of a basic utility patent can range anywhere from $5,000 – $15,000, not including the filing and examination fees.

Design Patent Cost

Usually much cheaper in comparison, a design patent can set you back anywhere from around $200 to $1000 depending on the complexity of the design and size of the entity. Again, there are additional costs involved with the application.

Plant Patent Cost

Cheaper again, a plant patent can range from $50 to $250, not including additional fees.

Please note that these are just average costs. The actual cost of getting a patent will vary depending on the specific circumstances of your invention.

Patent Advisors

Patent Advisors – or Patent Examiners – help you to examine the patent landscape and understand the intricacies of the patent application process. They work to ensure that your patent application has the best chance of being successful, preparing a strong and comprehensive application that meets all the necessary legal requirements and saves you money on potential resubmissions.

The cost of hiring a patent advisor will vary depending on experience, reputation and the complexity of your application. They usually charge fixed fees or hourly rates.

Patent Maintenance Fees

There are also fees associated with maintaining your patent once your application has been approved. Primarily, this is to maintain the validity of the grant. Provided that these fees are paid each year they are due, your patent will last for the entire term. These fees differ based on the jurisdiction:

European Patent Office (EPO)

Before Grant:

The first maintenance fee for a patent filed in Europe will be due at the start of year 3, on the second anniversary of your filing date. From this point, each year the fee to maintain your patent will increase until the end of your term. For the exact fees, please visit the EPO website.

After Grant:

Following the approval of your patent, fees must be paid directly to the national patent offices where the application was granted. For example, if you applied for your invention to be protected in 10 European countries, you will have to pay a maintenance fee for your patent to be upheld in each country.

The US Patent Office

After Grant:

In the US, there are only three patent maintenance fees that are payable. These are 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years after the date the patent was accepted.

Patent Valuation: What’s The Value Of Your Patent?

An arrow on a graph indicating growth.

Patents are a valuable asset for individuals and businesses alike, providing exclusive rights to protect their inventions or innovative ideas. However, determining the true value of a patent can be a complex and nuanced process. Patent valuation involves assessing various factors, such as:

  • Market size and competition
  • Type of protection
  • Territory of the patent
  • Estimated revenue that can be made from the patent
  • Age of the patent
  • Scope of the patent

When it comes to selling the rights to an intellectual property, the patent holder is in complete control of the process. Holding the patent grants a monopoly to the inventor – no one else can profit from using the invention without their permission. This means that if an individual or organisation wants the rights to use and/or sell a product, service, process, design etc., they will have to pay a premium price to become the patent holder.

Minesoft: A Leading Patent Search Software Provider

In today’s fast-paced and innovation-driven world, staying ahead of the competition is crucial. For businesses seeking to protect their intellectual property and gain a competitive edge, having access to accurate and comprehensive patent information is essential.

This is where Minesoft, a leading patent search software provider, comes into the picture. Minesoft offers cutting-edge tools and solutions, such as PatBase, that empower organisations to efficiently search, analyse, and track patents, ensuring they make informed decisions and maximise their intellectual property assets. Discover how Minesoft can revolutionise your patent search process by requesting a demo today!


How Long Does a Patent Last For?

A patent typically lasts for 20 years from the date of filing. However, this may vary depending on the type of patent, country in which it is filed, and whether maintenance fees are paid each year. It is important to note that even though a patent has expired, it does not mean that there will no longer be any legal consequences if someone infringes upon it.

Is a Patent Valid in Every Country?

In short, no. Patents are granted by individual countries based on their own laws and regulations. Therefore, the scope and enforceability of patents are restricted to the countries they were filed in. To acquire global protection for an invention, an inventor must apply for a patent in each country they wish to have protection in.

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