What is a Patent?

06.04.2017 |

Episode #2 of the course Patent basics: for inventors and decision-makers by Clint R. Morin


Welcome to the second lesson of the Patent Basics course. Having discussed the various types of intellectual property, we’ll dig a bit deeper into what a patent is and then provide an introduction to how you get one!

Because patent laws can vary significantly from country to country, the information I provide will relate most closely to the United States. Also, even though design patents can be very valuable, this course focuses on utility patents. Even so, this course will give you a foundation to quickly understand design patents or patent laws in other countries as well.


A Government-Issued Right

A patent is a right granted to you by a government after you file a patent application that meets their requirements. The granting of a patent right is usually evidenced through the publication of a document called a published patent. This document is important because it is used to define exactly what your rights are.

Generally speaking, a patent may be granted on a device, system, process, material, or other invention that you have developed alone or as part of a group. This is an important point, as you must be the inventor, or have rights to inventions developed by the inventor, in order to file or obtain patent rights. That is, you can’t see something cool that someone else is doing and then file a patent application on their stuff!


Right to Exclude, Or Fencing Out the Competition

The patent gives you a right of exclusion (or an “exclusive right”) to keep others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling a product or service that includes your invention. But how do we know what the invention is? By reading the claims. We will talk about these more in a later lesson, but the claims define what you can keep others from doing. It is as if your claims, as listed in a published patent, create a fence or boundary in the world of ideas where others can’t go for ideas to use in their products or processes!


Quid Pro Quo

“Quid pro quo” means “this for that.” It is a phrase used to indicate that something is given in exchange for something else. In the case of patents, the exchange is that you disclose to the patent office, and therefore to the public, the great invention that you have made or are working on. In return, the government will give you a limited monopoly on your invention, for about 20 years, to keep competitors at bay.

In other words, the government is dangling this benefit in front of you to get you to share your cool invention ideas with the world! They hope that this will increase the development of new technologies because ideas are being shared. It is important that you keep this “quid pro quo” principle in mind when you are pursuing a patent, as it helps to understand some of the rules you will encounter.



Put this all together, and a patent gives you the right to keep others in a specific country from making, using, or selling your invention, as defined by the patent document. Also, remember that you don’t have a patent until the government tells you that you have one! Always remember to distinguish in your mind between whether you have a patent or a filed patent application.


Interesting Note

Did you know that the patent law in the United States of America gets its basis from the United States Constitution?


Recommended book

“Patent It Yourself: Your Step-by-Step Guide to Filing at the U.S. Patent Office” by David Pressman Attorney, Thomas Tuytschaevers Attorney


Notice: This course and its lessons are not, nor are they intended to be, legal or other professional advice. Please seek the advice of a competent attorney or professional for your specific situation.


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