IP101: What is a Patent?

A patent is a form of intellectual property that grants the owner, or assignee, a temporary monopoly on the claimed technology for a specific term (currently, 20 years). There are many different types of patents, and the patent type will depend on the type of technology the patent is claiming.

The right granted by a patent is sometimes referred to as negative right. That is, patents do not grant the owner “freedom to operate” (also known as “right to practice”), because operating on the claimed technology of the patent may violate, or infringe, someone else’s patent (e.g. operating on a patent for a car may include the use of an engine that someone else has patented). Instead, patents allow the owner sue, or assert, the patent right against someone suspected to be infringing the patent (using the technology without permission).

Patents may be bought, sold, given away, or traded like other assets. Like other types of intellectual property, patents may also be licensed to other parties for royalties or other benefits. Patents are created through a formal application process involving one or more patent offices.