What is a patent?

Close up highlighted shot of dictionary definition for Patent.

Patent Definition

Patent refers to the endowment of exclusive rights by a government to an individual, concerning the processing, designing or invention of an entity for a specified time period1. Patent rights offer protection to a company or an individual, with respect to their acknowledgement as the founder of a new entity, concept or idea2.

Under patent protection, an inventor is bestowed with exclusive property rights that declare his sole ownership over the concerned invention3.

Grant of Patent Rights

In most countries and nations, patents are usually managed and granted by government agencies. Hence, attainment of patent rights usually requires an inventor or a company to send their patent applications to government bodies or concerned authorities4. Resultantly, once granted with patent protection concerning a particular invention, idea or concept, an individual or a company is secured against the possibility of another party stealing their idea and materialising it, claiming it as their own5.

The standard time for patent protection extends to a period of twenty years, during which no other company or individual is permitted to exploit an already patented invention or idea6. In this context, a patent may also be considered as a motivational factor that encourages industrial development across the globe. Authoritative bodies and government agencies grant an individual or a company with the monopoly to work on new idea or invention, in exchange of complete details about the working and development of the invention. This eventually leads to the development of industrious and enterprising attitude among individuals and various working bodies7.

Patent Protection Period

The twenty-year patent protection period may be broken down into an initial five-year period and following fifteen year period for better understanding about how a patent is granted. Once applied for a patent, an individual or a company is provided with an exclusive license to work on a new invention for five years, starting from your date of filing the application. After the completion of first five years, they then need to apply annually to renew their patent protection for the next fifteen years.

Country-Specific Approach

Patents are country-specific rights, which means that patent protection granted by the government of one country is not valid and cannot be claimed beyond its geographical boundaries8.

Tracing the History of Patents in the UK

History of patent rights can be traced back to Ancient Greece9. Some evidence is found in the writings of Athenaeus that hints towards the allotment of patent rights, established in the city of Sybaris, to the creators of unique culinary dishes, for a period of one year10.

Letter Patent Granted to John Kempe

The earliest example of the grant of patent rights and protection in England is perhaps the endowment of patent rights to John Kempe and his Company in 1331. As was the practice during those times, John Kempe and his Company were granted with exclusive patent rights by the royalty, in the form of letter patents11. A similar example that points towards the historical presence of patent rights in England is the grant of a patent to John of Utynam, by King Henry VI in 144912.

Defects of the Early Patent System in the UK

From its medieval origins, a patent system developed that was based on the principles of recognising intellectual property rights and also served as one of the dynamics that laid the basis for Industrial Revolution. By the 16th century, that grant of patent letters by the royalty was a common practice in England. However, patent grant at that time was subjected to personal bias of the royalty and practices that conform to the basic concept of simony13. Moreover, the grant of the patent was not as exclusive at that time, as royalty saw it as an opportunity to acquire financial gains. Consequently, patent letters were issued for all kinds of common goods, most of which held no novelty.

Rectifying Measures and Parliament’s Initiative

Eventually, after court restricted the grant of patent letters, making it relatively exclusive, widespread protests led to revoking of the entire previously granted patent rights, by King James I. Now patent letters in England were reserved for novel inventions and ideas.

The revocation of all the existing patents by King James I ran parallel to the introduction to the Statute of Monopolies. Along with including the clauses that referred to the grant of patents for new and novel inventions, Statute of Monopolies also served as the Parliament’s initiative to restrict the Crown’s authority concerning the grant of patent letters for undefined time periods. Patent rights were strictly granted for a limited period only, after the issuance of the Statute of Monopolies.

The Statute of Monopolies is considered as an important milestone that contributed towards the development of the modern patent system in England.

Laying Down Foundation of the Modern Patent System

Patent law in England began taking a concrete shape during the 18th century, through gradual modifications in the law and various judicial interpretations. It was during the reign of Queen Anne that a law was introduced that required the patent applicants to provide complete details about the working and development of their inventions14. The patent law saw further development and expansion, in the wake of legal battles concerning James Watt’s steam engine. Hence, it was established that patents may also be issued for amendments and enhancements for an existing invention and patent rights were also extended to be granted for abstract concepts and ideas, apart from tangible goods15.

Patent is More Than Protection

The patent system was initially founded to motivate the development of entrepreneurial and industrious attitude among individuals. It was considered as a means to encourage invention and its revelation.

Support for Invention

Since the fear of stealth of intellectual property and non-acknowledgement for an invention gave way to the adoption of discretion, concerning various inventions, it generally resulted in an overall reduction in the inclination towards invention. Hence, the provision of patent rights and protection by a government body was an initiative to assure the individuals and companies of adequate security concerning their novel ideas and inventions. Ultimately, it also alleviated the fear the entailed the disclosure of inventions and paved the way for further inventions in various arenas.

Monopoly and Financial Gains

Patent rights provide an individual or a company with the exclusive license to hold a monopoly over the commercial use, gains and further exploration of a particular invention, concept or idea. Hence, grant of patent rights concerning a particular entity, to a specific individual or a company also provides the concerned individual or company with sufficient time to recover their costs, which they might have invested in the development and creation of the patented property. Patent rights and protection provide monopoly over a market for a sufficient period, and during this period the inventors may reap the benefits of their efforts to the maximum.


Where patent supports invention, it also paves the way for innovation. Since the standard patent granting procedure also includes the publishing of all the details of an invention or idea, the published information not only serves as food for thought to inspire further invention but it also may stimulate individuals to think about changes and modifications that may be applied to the reported invention.

This may be of particular help, in case the inventor refuses to license his invention to another interested party after the completion of prescribed patented period16.

How is Patent More Relevant in the Present Era?

Today, businesses and companies treat intellectual property as a valuable asset and patent and intellectual property rights are considered to be more important than these ever have been, for a business’ growth and progress. The increased involvement of industrial giants, especially from the technology sector, in the litigation of patent rights and protection, the trend is only expected to show further growth and expansion in the coming times.

Intellectual Property

It is deemed that businesses are too spend resources on familiarising themselves with the patent system and the procedure for the grant of patent rights, in order to improve their IP positions.

With the introduction of more interactive technological devices, product design and intellectual innovation have gained immense importance in the tech industry. Resultantly, it is no surprise that to retain their hold on the markets, various businesses are now focused on availing patent rights and protection in a more pro-active manner, to beat their competition.

The distinction that most organisations today enjoy as a result of having access to intellectual property and patent rights has led to them having a stronghold of a specific market segment and a competitive edge over others.

Patent law and rights are presently concerned with large-scale applications and are more focused on organisations and companies, rather than individual inventors17.

Questioning the Grant of Patent Rights for Medical Entities

Medicinal drugs

Patent practices and laws are heavily criticised for their active participation in the rising drug prices in the developed countries. Consequently, many of the medicinal drugs are inaccessible by common men in developed nations.

Patented drugs have shown a consistent trend of higher prices in comparison to generic medicinal drugs, hence the preference given to the production and supply of generic medicinal drugs over patented ones to ensure the provision of widespread health facilities to a higher percentage of the population, by various critics.

Pharmaceutical Research

Moreover, patent laws are also subjected to criticism as these are believed to impede research concerning the cure and remedies of tropical diseases in the developing countries. Due to lack of resources, it is extremely difficult to carry out authentic medical and pharmaceutical research in developing nations and patent protection for R&D further adds to the hurdles faced during research18.


  1. http://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/patent.asp
  2. http://www.technologystudent.com/prddes1/patent1.html
  3. http://www.stopfakes.gov/learn-about-ip/patents/about
  4. http://www.investopedia.com/terms/p/patent.asp
  5. http://www.technologystudent.com/prddes1/patent1.html
  6. http://www.stopfakes.gov/learn-about-ip/patents/about
  7. http://ip-science.thomsonreuters.com/support/patents/patinf/patentfaqs/patent/
  8. http://www.technologystudent.com/prddes1/patent1.html
  9. A Classical Dictionary: Harper & Bros, 1841, page 1273
  10. Phylarchus of Naucratis, “The Deipnosophists, or, Banquet of the Learned of Athenæus”, Translated from Ancient Greek by H.Bohn 12:20, p.835
  11. Terrell on Patents, 8th edition edited by J R Jones, London (Sweet & Maxwell) 1934.
  12. E Wyndham Hulme, The History of the Patent System under the Prerogative and at Common Law, Law Quarterly Review, vol.46 (1896), pp.141-154.
  13. http://avalon.law.yale.edu/subject_menus/blackstone.asp
  14. http://aka.ipo.gov.uk/types/patent/p-about/p-whatis/p-history/p-history-18century.htm
  15. http://aka.ipo.gov.uk/about-history-copy.htm
  16. http://www.iusmentis.com/patents/crashcourse/whatis/
  17. http://www.techinsights.com/5-intellectual-property-and-patent-trends-for-2013/
  18. http://eipr.org/en/report/2010/05/09/848/852