How patents work

It is easier to copy an idea than to produce a new one. The purpose of patents is therefore to protect inventors by ensuring that they own their discovery under certain conditions.

In practice, a patent is a title deed protecting, including in court, a temporary monopoly of exploitation, generally 20 years, on the patented invention. The protection of intellectual property in the form of patents is of great importance in many sectors of industry. This is particularly true for industries with high product development costs and long product life, such as biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. Experts in technology transfer must therefore file a patent application at an early stage, as it is no longer possible to patent an invention after the results have been published in scientific journals or through other channels.

The criteria for an invention to be patentable are:
1. The novelty. The idea must not be publicly known until the date of its filing.
2. The inventiveness. The idea must not be the obvious result of existing knowledge.
3. Applicability. The idea must be able to be implemented and produce the expected results.

Some ideas are not patentable, in particular knowledge of living things as such. Within research institutes, the process generally involves the following steps: identification and evaluation of research results through the disclosure of inventions (only internally in order to pre-analyze patentability), filing of patent applications with the responsible bodies (Federal Institute of Intellectual Property, US Patent Office or any other court), analysis of patentability by patent offices and, in general, adjustment - or defence - of the text of the original patent to meet the objections of the administration of intellectual property. 

The path to obtaining such protection in one or more countries is relatively long (two to three years) and costly (costs of proceedings, translation into the national languages of the countries, assistance from a lawyer or patent agent). But that's not the end of the road.

«The path to obtaining such protection in one or more countries is relatively long and costly»

For the patent to lead to innovation, i.e. to a practical application actually deployed, it is still necessary to identify partners capable of exploiting this invention (existing or newly created company - start-up), negotiate an appropriate licensing agreement and defend the patent against possible infringement.

Only then, with a little luck, will the initial idea begin to be exploited.


It should also be noted that, in addition to patents, other intellectual property mechanisms also exist and can play an equally important role in protecting a developing innovation. These are registered trademarks, industrial designs and copyright, for example for computer software.