What is a Patent?

Many inventors ask: Are patents international? Understanding patent laws and how they protect inventors can help you answer this question. Patents give exclusive rights to an inventor or company for a specific invention. This exclusive right is granted on a process or product that offers a new solution to a common problem or a new way to do something. In order to receive patent protection, an inventor must submit and disclose the invention's technical information in an application. 

As the owner of a patent, you have the option to give permission to others to use the invention, as long as all use is done on the terms agreed upon by both parties. This option is called licensing. Another option is to sell the rights granted by the patent, which means that person becomes the patent owner. After the expiration of a patent, the invention becomes public domain and all protections are over. When the invention is in the public domain, it is free for anyone to use, produce, sell, or commercially exploit without committing patent infringement.

A patent should include details that will help users understand the invention and how to use it. Without enough details in the patent application, someone else could go around the terms and create a similar product. When an application is submitted, the patent office reviewers won't decide whether it has value. That responsibility falls on the inventor.

A good patent should include a couple of major elements:

  • A detailed description of the invention with drawings, called the disclosure
  • A list of similar, publicly known inventions that have been published in books or already exist as products, called prior art
  • Details of what will be protected, called claims 

What Rights Does a Patent Provide?

As the owner of the patent, you have the right to determine who can use or produce your invention for the term. When an invention is protected by a patent, no one else can use, import, produce, sell, distribute, or manufacture the product without consent from the owner of the patent.

What Kinds of Invention Can Be Protected?

A patent can be given for an invention in just about any field related to technology, such as a chip used in a computer or a utensil used in the kitchen. Inventions that qualify for patent protection can be either products, like chemical compounds, or processes, such as the method to produce a chemical compound. A single product could contain a lot of different inventions, such as a cell phone that contains hundreds of components, all protected under patents and working simultaneously.

How Long Does a Patent Protection Last?

A patent does not last forever. In the United States, as well as in other countries, the term of a patent is 20 years from the date the application was filed.

Is a Patent Valid in Every Country?

A patent is a right in a specific territory. Generally, the rights under a patent will only apply in the region or country in which you have filed the application and received approval. Patent laws vary between regions and countries.

How Can Patents Be Obtained Worldwide?

There is no current way to receive an international patent or universal patent that is recognized in every country across the globe. No single filing option exists that protects an idea in all countries of the world. Inventors typically have to file the patent application in every country in which they want their idea protected, based on that specific country or region's laws and regulations. In order to get patent protection in multiple countries, you can file a national application with the associated office in each country.

Some regions have regional patent offices and will recognize patents in some of their member states. For example, the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization and the European Patent Office will grant patent protection for some or all of the states of countries included within each organization or office. 

In an attempt to streamline and improve the patent application process for inventors, several international treaties have become law. Some examples of these treaties include:

If you need help with international patents, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.