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An Introduction to Patents

A patent is a powerful form of intellectual property that has very strong legal rights attached to it.

At its core, it is a negative legal right granted by individual states to an inventor, who in return, must disclose to the world how his invention works (hence it is not in conflict with the publication needs of academic institutions).

Specifically, it prevents 3rd parties from commercially using the invention as claimed in the patent, unless the patent owner explicitly allows it. It is important to remember that having a granted patent does not automatically allows one to practice his/her invention freely; this will depend on the breadth and strength of the patent at hand, and whether the technology/product based on the invention actually falls under the scope of 3rd party patents or not.

If it does, the explicit consent of the party owning such relevant patent will be needed. It is also very important to know that the rights attached to a patent are not automatically enforced, but rather, the owner of the patent has the responsibility, if it wishes, to enforce the rights attached to it by suing those parties it believes infringe on the patent.

Patents are useful to protect not only one’s past investment in the research that led to the invention but also future investments while developing and validating the invention it towards commercialisation. Alternatively, patents can be licensed to 3rd parties to allow them to develop the technology around the invention to the commercial stage.

Universities typically engage only in licensing patents and other forms of intellectual property to external companies. In some cases, a start-up company may be created specifically to exploit a piece of university intellectual property; the university will then license its patent/intellectual property to that start-up company.