to say that something is patent can also mean that there is a clear communication through it.

for example, a patent blood vessel is one that is not blocked and through which blood still flows.

Patents are among the tools used by corporations to generate profit, and control the things we use.

Once upon a time, so the story goes, patents, like copyright, were for the benefit of the individual creator--the inventor or writer. I am uncertain if that has ever really been the case.

All the parts that went into making radio, existed long before RCA came into existence, or built them. Only when the patent pools were assembled, did this happen.

Nowadays, most discoveries require vast investment of cash, and only corporate interests can provide that--so the corporate interests control them.

This is just another step in the transfering of those rights we once thought inhered in human persons, to corporate persons.

The patent is one of three legs of the tripod of intellectual property laws in the US. Where trademarks were designed for logos and whatnot, and the copyright was designed primarily to protect authors, the patent is designed to protect the inventor.

Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution states that: "The Congress shall have power ... to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries."

Patents were designed with both the inventor and the public in mind. It encourages the inventor to invent, and to share his inventions, by guaranteeing that no one else will be able to imitate his invention without his permission. In exchange for the monopoly granted to the inventor, the inventor discloses enough data about his invention for someone else skilled in relevant area(s) to be able to reproduce and use the invention.

A number of different things can be patented: "any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent".1 You will note that the invention must be both new and useful. The first condition is a rather major one: a patent can be voided by the Commissioner of Patents if someone sends in prior art and requests a reexamination of the patent.2

Patents last a long time. "[The] grant shall be for a term beginning on the date on which the patent issues and ending 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed". So, for 20 years after you file the patent, the invention is yours and yours alone, and you get to decide who uses it and who doesn't. However, you must enforce this yourself: it is not the patent office's job. If someone infringes upon your patent, you sue them.3 You can seek both damages (money), and an injunction (an order by the court not to do it again).

On the whole, patents are (in my opinion) one of the better parts of intellectual property. It seems to be a well thought-out and well-designed plan, and I believe it is serving its purpose quite well.

  1. US Code, Title 35, Part II, Chapter 10, Sec. 101. (
  2. The process of submitting prior art and requesting a reexamination is set forth in Chapter 30 (
  3. US Code, Title 35, Part III, Chapter 29, Sec. 281: "A patentee shall have remedy by civil action for infringement of his patent" ( Infringement is defined in Chapter 28 (

I got a lot of this from the US Patent and Trademark Office's page on patents, at

A patent is - like all intellectual property - a territorial right to control the use of an invention. Each sovereign state may, subject to any desire to meet treaty obligations, make any rules they like for a patent to be valid, so no universal advice can be given. This article will cover the nature of patents in the UK, and their relationship to the European Patent application process.

What you get

The issue of a UK patent grants the holder the right to determine the use throughout the UK of the technology covered by the patent to the extent that they may control the use of things employing the technology. This right lasts for a maximum of 20 years. The patent is a piece of property, and may be transferred or licensed as the patent-holder decides.

European Patents

The European Patent Convention establishes a uniform process for patent applications throughout the territory of the signatories. Each application must list the countries in which it is hoped that patents will be issued, and a successful application results in the separate issue of a patent in each of those countries, granting the exact privileges of, and subject to, the law of that country. The convention has been signed by most members of the EEA, and a few others besides. Fortunately, the criteria for the issue of a patent in the UK is currently identical to that applied by the European Patent Office. (This is not coincidental: there are a number of European Community Directives to ensure this.)

How do I get one?

You file an application detailing the background to the invention: the state of the art prior to your invention, the nature of your invention, what it adds to the state of the art that was previously missing, and any details necessary to use the invention; finally it must contain a statement of the "claims" of the patent.

Claims delimit the boundary of what the patent covers. These claims are a series of properties of the invention: if any technology has all of the properties, then it is covered by the patent. The claims must be interpreted "constructively", which is to say with regard to what they would mean to "a man skilled in the art" (where the art is whatever field the invention is in: it may be agricultural equipment, medicine, lady shaving, or whatever else is appropriate), so in a claim involving a "vertical strut" would mean a strut that sticks far up more than it sticks out, rather than one that is absolutely perpendicular to the ground, if that makes no material difference to the nature of the technology. That is to say, if the cleverness is that the strut stick up, then even things which are not perfectly vertical will be covered, while an invention that requires perfect verticality, will not give rise to rights in inventions which have required some new cleverness to allow broadly verticallity.

On a practical note, you will be unlikely to succeed in your application unless you employ a decent patent agent.

Oooooooh, somebody stop me!

Before a patent can be granted it must be examined to determine whether or not the application meets the necessary critera. In the UK High Court or the Patents County Court may may hear actions to have a patent struck off the register, or to determine compensation for the infringement of a patent.


The invention must be something new, and it must not be obvious to a "man skilled in the art". The invention must strictly not have been disclosed to anyone before application.


The invention must be capable of industrial exploitation. Inventions that cannot be used in some productive pursuit may not be patented. This primarily operates to limit the system to functional, rather than aesthetic, inventions.

Not excluded

Certain inventions, although novel and valuable may not be patented: Computer programs, algorithms, mathematical inventions, methods of doing business, methods of playing games, or "methods of thought" are all excluded.

Pat"ent (p&acr;t"ent or p&amac;t"ent), a. [L. patens, -entis, of patere to be open: cf. F. patent. Cf. Fathom.]

1. (Oftener pronounced p&amac;t"ent in this sense)

Open; expanded; evident; apparent; unconcealed; manifest; public; conspicuous.

He had received instructions, both patent and secret. Motley.


Open to public perusal; -- said of a document conferring some right or privilege; as, letters patent. See Letters patent, under 3d Letter.


Appropriated or protected by letters patent; secured by official authority to the exclusive possession, control, and disposal of some person or party; patented; as, a patent right; patent medicines.

Madder . . . in King Charles the First's time, was made a patent commodity. Mortimer.

4. Bot.

Spreading; forming a nearly right angle with the steam or branch; as, a patent leaf.

Patent leather, a varnished or lacquered leather, used for boots and shoes, and in carriage and harness work. -- Patent office, a government bureau for the examination of inventions and the granting of patents. -- Patent right. (a) The exclusive right to an invention, and the control of its manufacture. (b) Law The right, granted by the sovereign, of exclusive control of some business of manufacture, or of the sale of certain articles, or of certain offices or prerogatives. -- Patent rolls, the registers, or records, of patents.


© Webster 1913.

Pat"ent, n. [Cf. F. patente. See Patent, a.]


A letter patent, or letters patent; an official document, issued by a sovereign power, conferring a right or privilege on some person or party.

Specifically: (a)

A writing securing to an invention

. (b)

A document making a grant and conveyance of public lands.

Four other gentlemen of quality remained mentioned in that patent. Fuller.

In the United States, by the act of 1870, patents for inventions are issued for seventeen years, without the privilege of renewal except by act of Congress.


The right or privilege conferred by such a document; hence, figuratively, a right, privilege, or license of the nature of a patent.

If you are so fond over her iniquity, give her patent to offend. Shak.


© Webster 1913.

Pat"ent, v. t. [imp. & p. p. Patented; p. pr. & vb. n. Patenting.]

To grant by patent; to make the subject of a patent; to secure or protect by patent; as, to patent an invention; to patent public lands.


© Webster 1913.

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