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Patents: What is a patent?

What is a patent?

Patents grant rights to inventors in exchange for publicly disclosing their inventions.  The thing being patented must be useful, novel and non-obvious.

The following things can be patented:

  • a product;
  • an apparatus or device;
  • composition of matter;
  • a process (includes software, algorithms, genetic engineering, etc.);
  • an improvement on the above categories.

Structure of a patent

All recent patents have the same structure:

  • an abstract – a summary of the key technical aspects of the invention.
  • claims – exact legal statements defining the invention and its technical features.
  • description - a written description of the invention, usually accompanied with drawings.


Coverage and duration

Patents only apply in the country where they are patented e.g. a UK patent applies in the UK.  Someone could manufacture a similar product in Spain and sell it in Spain, but they couldn’t sell it in the UK.

Standard UK patents last for 20 years, but need to be renewed after the first four years, and annually after that.  Drug patents can be extended by an additional 5 years.


Example of a Patent

Screenshot of a US patent