World Intellectual Property Organization

FAQs: Patents

Basics

A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. To get a patent, technical information about the invention must be disclosed to the public in a patent application.

In principle, the patent owner has the exclusive right to prevent or stop others from commercially exploiting the patented invention. In other words, patent protection means that the invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed, imported or sold by others without the patent owner's consent.

Patents are territorial rights. In general, the exclusive rights are only applicable in the country or region in which a patent has been filed and granted, in accordance with the law of that country or region.

WIPO Lex provides easy access to intellectual property legislation from a wide range of countries and regions as well as to treaties on intellectual property.

Many national or regional patent Offices provide information concerning national or regional legislation on their websites. A list of URLs of national and regional intellectual property offices are available.

The protection is granted for a limited period, generally 20 years from the filing date of the application.

An invention must, in general, fulfill the following conditions to be protected by a patent. It must be of practical use and must show an element of novelty, that is, some new characteristic which is not known in the body of existing knowledge in its technical field. This body of existing knowledge is called “prior art”. In addition the invention must involve an inventive step which could not be obviously deduced by a person with average knowledge of the technical field. Further the invention must be capable of industrial application, meaning that it must be capable of being used for an industrial or business purpose beyond a mere theoretical phenomenon.

Finally, its subject matter must be accepted as “patentable” under law. In many countries, scientific theories, aesthetic creations, mathematical methods, plant or animal varieties, discoveries of natural substances, commercial methods, methods for medical treatment (as opposed to medical products) or computer programs are generally not patentable.

Procedural and substantive requirements for the grant of patents are different from one country or region to the other. In particular, practices and case law regarding the patentability of software-related inventions vary significantly in different countries. For example, in some countries, “inventions” within the meaning of patent law must have a “technical character”. Therefore, certain inventions that embody software may have technical character and thus fall under patentable subject matter, while software as such is excluded from patentable subject matter. In other countries, such requirements do not exist, so that software is generally patentable subject matter. However, even if software is patentable subject matter, the invention shall not fall under other non-patentable subject matter, such as abstract ideas or mathematical theories, and has to fulfill the other substantive criteria of patentability, such as novelty, inventive step (non-obviousness) and industrial applicability (usefulness), among other requirements.

It is therefore recommended that you consult a practicing lawyer who is specialized in intellectual property or the intellectual property offices of those countries in which you are interested in obtaining protection. A list of URLs and a directory of national and regional intellectual property offices are available. In addition, WIPO Lex provides easy access to intellectual property legislation from a wide range of countries and regions in order to familiarize with the different requirements.

In general, computer programs are protected under copyright as literary works. Copyright protection does not depend on any formalities such as registration or the deposit of copies in countries party to the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works (Berne Convention). This means that international copyright protection is automatic. The protection starts with the creation or fixation of the work, such as software or a webpage. However, according to a well-established principle, copyright protection extends only to expressions, not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such. Many companies protect the object code of computer programs by copyright, while the source code is kept as a trade secret. Further information on patents and software and business methods is available.

A patent owner has the right to decide who may – or may not – use the patented invention for the period in which the invention is protected. The patent owner may give permission to, or license, other parties to use the invention on mutually agreed terms. The owner may also sell the right to the invention to someone else, who will then become the new owner of the patent. Once a patent expires, the protection ends, and an invention enters the public domain, that is, anyone can commercially exploit the invention without infringing the patent.

Patent rights are usually enforced in a court on the initiative of the owner, which, in most systems, holds the authority to stop patent infringement. The main responsibility for monitoring, identifying and taking action against infringers of a patent lies with the patent owner.

Patented inventions have, in fact, pervaded every aspect of human life, from electric lighting (patents held by Edison and Swan) and plastic (patents held by Baekeland), to ballpoint pens (patents held by Biro) and microprocessors (patents held by Intel, for example).

All patent owners are obliged, in return for patent protection, to publicly disclose information on their invention in order to enrich the total body of technical knowledge in the world. Such an ever-increasing body of public knowledge promotes further creativity and innovation in others. In this way, patents provide not only protection for the owner but valuable information and inspiration for future generations of researchers and inventors.

Once knowledge is publicly available, by its nature, it can be used simultaneously by an unlimited number of persons. While this is, without doubt, perfectly acceptable for public information, it causes a dilemma for the commercialization of technical knowledge. In the absence of protection of such knowledge, free-riders could easily use technical knowledge embedded in inventions without any recognition of the creativity of the inventor or contribution to the investments made by the inventor. As a consequence, inventors would naturally be discouraged to bring new inventions to the market, and tend to keep their commercially valuable inventions secret as much as possible.

Therefore, patents provide incentives to individuals by offering them recognition for their creativity and the possibility of material reward for their inventions. In return for the exclusive right provided by a patent, the patent applicant is required to disclose the invention to the public by providing detailed, accurate and complete written description of the invention in the patent application. Further, the public disclosure of the technical knowledge in the patent and the exclusive right granted by the patent provide incentives for competitors to search for alternative solutions and to “invent around” the first invention. These incentives and the dissemination of knowledge about new inventions encourage further innovation, which assures that the quality of human life and the well-being of society is continuously enhanced.


Filing for and grant of patents

The first step in securing a patent is the filing of a patent application. The patent application generally contains the title of the invention, as well as an indication of its technical field; it must include the background and a description of the invention, in clear language and enough detail that a person with an average understanding of the field could use or reproduce the invention. Such descriptions are usually accompanied by visual materials such as drawings, plans, or diagrams to better describe the invention and an abstract which contains a brief summary of the invention. The application also contains various "claims", that is, information which determines the extent of protection.

In many countries, applicants may prepare their patent applications and file them without assistance from a patent attorney. However, given the complexity of patent documents and the legal skills required, such as claim drafting, it is highly advisable to seek legal assistance from a patent attorney/agent when drafting a patent application.

Furthermore, the legislation of many countries requires that the applicant whose ordinary residence or principal place of business is outside the country be represented by an attorney or agent admitted in the country (which usually means an agent or attorney who resides and practices in that country). Information on the admitted attorneys and agents may be obtained directly from the national IP offices.

A patent is granted by a national patent office or by a regional office that does the work for a number of countries. Currently, regional patent offices are the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI), the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), the Eurasian Patent Organization (EAPO), the European Patent Office (EPO) and the Patent Office of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC Patent Office). Under such regional systems, an applicant requests protection for the invention in one or more Member States of the regional organization, and the regional office accepts patent applications, which have the same effect as national applications, or grants patents, if all the criteria for the grant of such a regional patent are met.

There is currently, no international system for the grant of patents.

At present, no “world patent” or “international patent” exists.

Patents are territorial rights. In general, an application for a patent must be filed, and a patent shall be granted and enforced, in each country in which you seek patent protection for your invention, in accordance with the law of that country. In some regions, a regional patent office, for example, the European Patent Office (EPO) and the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), accepts regional patent applications, or grants patents, which have the same effect as applications filed, or patents granted, in the member States of that region.

Further, any resident or national of a Contracting State of the WIPO-administered Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) may file an international application under the PCT. A single international patent application has the same effect as national applications filed in each designated Contracting State of the PCT. However, under the PCT system, in order to obtain patent protection in the designated States, a patent shall be granted by each designated State to the claimed invention contained in the international application. The decision to offer patent protection is taken by each national or regional patent office designated. Further information concerning the PCT and protecting inventions abroad is available.

On the basis of a regular first application filed in one of the Contracting Parties of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (Paris Convention), for the purpose of filing national or regional applications in other countries or filing the international PCT applications, you can enjoy a right of priority during the period of 12 months from the date of the filing of the first application. Thus, any subsequent filing in any of the Contracting Parties before the expiration of such 12 months shall not be invalidated by reasons of any acts accomplished in the interval, such as another filing, the publication or sale of the invention. Members of the World Trade Organization (WTO) must also recognize the right of priority.

Procedural and substantive requirements for the grant of patents as well as the amount of fees required are different from one country or region to the other. It is therefore recommended that you consult a practicing lawyer who is specialized in intellectual property or the intellectual property offices of those countries in which you are interested in obtaining protection. A list of URLs and a directory of national and regional intellectual property offices are available.

The costs vary considerably from country to country, and within a country, they depend on factors such as the nature of the invention, its complexity, patent attorney’s fees, the length of the application and objections raised during the examination by the patent office. Some countries have discounts for small and medium-sized enterprises and for applicants filing the application on-line. In addition, some countries allow expedited examination on payment of additional fees.

In addition to the national official filing fees, once a patent is granted by the patent office, you must pay maintenance or renewal fees, generally on an annual basis, to maintain the validity of the patent.

In case you decide to patent your invention abroad, you should consider also the relevant official filing fees for each country in question, the translation costs and the costs of using local patent agents, which is a requirement in many countries for foreign applicants.

As the official filing fees vary widely from country to country, please contact the national or regional patent office which will be able to give you details on the fee structure. A list of URLs and a directory of national and regional intellectual property offices are available. Information on PCT fees is available on the PCT website.

The protection is granted for a limited period, generally 20 years from the filing date of the application, subject to the payment of a maintenance fee. In some countries, the protection may be extended beyond 20 years or a Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC) may be issues in very specific cases. The extension has the objective to compensate the time needed for the administrative approval procedure before those products can be put on the market since the patent owner could not enjoy his right, in certain cases, for a considerable period of time after the grant of the patent.

A court may invalidate or revoke a patent upon a successful challenge by a third party. In addition, many patent offices provide administrative procedures that allow third parties to oppose to the grant of a patent (so-called "opposition systems"), for example, on the basis that the claimed invention is not new or does not involve an inventive step. Procedures for challenging patents are different from one country to the other. Find out more about opposition systems.


Confidentiality

No. Patents are granted by patent offices in exchange for a full disclosure of the invention which is thereafter, in general, published and becomes available to the general public. Publication, however, may take place at different stages of the procedure. In some countries, the patent document is only published after the time of the grant of a patent. In other countries, patent applications are published generally after 18 months from the filing date or, where priority has been claimed, the priority date (for more detail on your country’s procedure for patent application, check the website of your country’s IP office).

It is important to file a patent application before publicly disclosing the details of the invention. In general, any invention which is made public before an application is filed would be considered prior art (although the definition of the term “prior art” is not uniform at the international level, in many countries, it consists of any information which has been made available to the public anywhere in the world by written or oral disclosure before the filing date). In countries which apply the above definition of the term “prior art”, the applicant’s public disclosure of the invention prior to filing a patent application would prevent him/her from obtaining a valid patent for that invention, since such invention would not comply with the novelty requirement. Some countries, however, allow for a grace period, usually between 6 to 12 months, which provides a safeguard for applicants who disclosed their inventions before filing a patent application. Further, the novelty criteria may be interpreted differently depending on the applicable law.

If it is inevitable to disclose your invention before filing a patent application, for example, to a potential investor or a business partner such a disclosure should be accompanied by a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement. It should be kept in mind that generally applying early for patent protection will be useful for seeking financial support to commercialize the invention.


Patents and business

Most people think of patents in relation to major scientific breakthroughs such as Edison’s first electric lamp or large corporations investing large sums in research and development. However, most patents do not concern scientific breakthroughs, but are granted for inventions that make improvements on existing inventions, for example, on a product with better performance or a process that allows a cheaper or more efficient production of a known product. In addition, certain countries have specific legal provisions for protecting rather incremental innovations under the form of utility models, which have a shorter duration than patents and are generally easier to obtain.

While it is certainly true that not all enterprises develop patentable inventions, it is a misperception to believe that patents only apply to complex physical or chemical processes and products or are only useful to large corporations. Patents may be obtained for any area of technology from paper clips to computers.

  • Exclusive rights – Patents provide you with an exclusive right to prevent or stop others from commercially exploiting the invention for twenty years from the date of filing of the patent application.
  • Return on investments – Having invested a considerable amount of money and time in developing innovative products, through these exclusive rights, you may be able to establish yourself in the market as the pre-eminent player and to obtain higher returns on investments.
  • Opportunity to license or sell the invention – If you choose not to exploit the patent yourself, you may sell it or license the commercialization of the patented invention to another enterprise, which will be a source of income for your company.
  • Increase in negotiating power – If your company is in the process of acquiring the rights to use the patents of another enterprise through a licensing contract, your patent portfolio will enhance your bargaining power. That is to say, your patents may prove to be of considerable interest to the enterprise with whom you are negotiating, and you could enter into a cross-licensing arrangement where, simply put, your enterprise and the other agree to license respective patents to each other.
  • Positive image for your enterprise – Business partners, investors and shareholders may perceive patent portfolios as a demonstration of the high level of expertise, specialization and technological capacity within your company. This may prove useful for raising funds, finding business partners and raising your company’s market value.

Competitors might take advantage of your invention – if the product is successful, many other competitor firms will be tempted to make the same product by using your invention without needing to ask for your permission. Larger enterprises may take advantage of scale economies to produce the product more cheaply and compete at a more favorable market price. This may considerably reduce your company’s market share for that product. Even small competing enterprises can produce the same product, and often sell it at a lower price as they do not have to recoup research and development costs incurred by your company.

Possibilities to license, sell or transfer technology will be severely hindered – without IP rights, transfers of technology would be difficult if not impossible. Transfer of technology presupposes ownership of a technology which can only be effectively obtained through appropriate IP protection. Without IP protection over the technology in question, parties are suspicious of disclosing their inventions during the negotiations for transferring that technology, fearing that the other side may “run away with the invention”. IP protection, in particular patent protection, is crucial for acquiring technology through its licensing.

Finally, somebody else might patent them if the invention has not been disclosed to the public. With the exception of the system applicable in the United States of America until March 16, 2013, the first person or enterprise to file a patent for an invention will have the right to the patent. This may in fact mean that, if you do not patent your inventions or inventions of the employees of your company, somebody else - who may have developed the same or an equivalent invention later - may do so and legitimately exclude your enterprise from the market, limit your activities to the continuation of prior use, where the patent legislation provides for such exception, or ask your company to pay a licensing fee for using the invention. However, to ensure that no one is able to patent your invention, you may disclose the invention to the public, thereby placing it in the public domain (commonly known as defensive publication). At the same time, if you disclose your invention before filing a patent application, you will severely limit your possibility of obtaining patent protection on that invention.

In many cases, where an enterprise has merely improved an existing product and the said improvement is not sufficiently inventive to be deemed patentable, utility models may represent a good alternative, if available in the country in question. On occasions, it may be advisable for your company to keep its innovations as trade secrets which requires, in particular, that sufficient measures are taken to keep the information confidential.

Another alternative strategy could be to ensure that no one is able to patent your invention by disclosing it (commonly known as defensive publication), thereby assuring its place in the public domain. However, you should carefully reflect on using this strategy, since if you disclose your invention before filing a patent application, you will severely limit your possibility of obtaining patent protection on that invention as well.

In most countries, if an employee has developed an invention in execution of his employment contract, i.e., usually during his working time within the enterprise, the invention (and the related patent rights) will belong to the enterprise. To avoid confusion and possible disputes, employers often specify issues of IP ownership in employment contracts. Depending on the merits of the case, the employee may, however, have a right to equitable remuneration in accordance with legislative provisions or his employment contract. Nevertheless, the employee will always retain the right to be mentioned as the inventor, unless he expressly renounces this right.

Many national or regional patent Offices provide further information on their websites. A list of URLs of national and regional intellectual property offices are available. Intellectual property legislation from a wide range of countries and regions is available at WIPO Lex.


Patent information

The industrial property system has two main functions: the so-called "exclusivity function" and "the information function". The fact that a patent gives an inventor an exclusive right on a special knowledge and by doing so limits the possibilities of access to this special technology for other enterprises is compensated by the obligation for the inventor to disclose the information about the newly developed technology for public access. This second function of the IP system, referred to as the information function, is very important for the continuous development of the technology.

Each publication of a patent document could be the base for new technical developments by other inventors. Without publication there would be no chance for the public to get information about new technical developments. It is therefore not surprising that today providing information for the public is part of the tasks of an industrial property office. In the last 30 years a change took place: with the growing use of information many industrial property offices realised that providing information to the public might in future be of equal importance to the granting of patents itself. Thus most industrial property offices decided to build up greater information capacities for the public.

Patent documents contain descriptions of scientific and technical concepts as well as practical details of processes and apparatus. Patents generally disclose technological information by describing the inventions in accordance with the requirements of the applicable patent law and by indicating the claimed novelty and inventiveness by reference to the existing state-of-the-art. They are thus sources of information, and in many cases furnish a history, in summary form, of the technological progress in the field of technology to which they relate.

The practice has shown that information contained in patent documents can be very useful to:

  • avoid duplication of R&D work;
  • identify specific new ideas and technical solutions, products or processes;
  • identify the state-of-the-art in a specific technological field in order to be aware of the latest development;
  • assess and evaluate specific technology and to identify possible licensors;
  • identify alternative technology and its sources;
  • locate of sources of know-how in a specific field of technology or in a given country;
  • improvement of an existing product or process;
  • development of new technical solutions, products or processes,
  • identify existing or prospective industrial property rights (validity, ownership, ...), particularly to avoid infringement actions;
  • assess novelty and patentability of own developments with a view of applying for a domestic or foreign industrial property right;
  • monitor activities of competitors both within the country and abroad; and
  • identify a market niche or to discover new trends in technology or product development at an early stage.

It is highly advisable for companies engaging in inventive activities to consult patent databases to find out about existing technologies, identify licensing partners and avoid duplication of research activities.

They contain technological information which is often not divulged in any other form of publication.They have a relatively standardized format including an abstract, a description of the invention, and in most cases also drawings illustrating the invention and full details on the applicant. They are classified according to technical fields (for more information, see “General Information on the International Patent Classification System”). They further provide examples of industrial applicability of an invention. They cover practically every field of technology.

In order to search patent applications and granted patents, some national or regional patent offices provide free-of-charge electronic databases via Internet (a list of URLs of such web-based databases) is available. WIPO Patentscope provides access to a free-of charge electronic database on published international patent applications filed under the PCT system and on patent collections of certain countries and regions. If web-based databases are not available, patent information is published on paper, on microfilms or CD-ROMs, or may be consulted at the national or regional patent offices.

Searchable Internet patent databases have significantly facilitated the access to patent information. However, given the complexity of patent documents and the technical and legal skills required to conduct such searches, it is advisable to contact a professional patent attorney for a high-quality patent search.

WIPO Patent Information Services (WPIS) provides free-of-charge services for users in developing countries who wish to obtain technical search results in relation to their inventions.

Hereafter are given brief descriptions of specific characteristics of patent documents, which make them extremely useful sources of technological information, with some clear advantages over other sources of information.

Description, Claims, Drawings

Patent documents generally have a fairly uniform structure that facilitates the extracting of information: the claims give the essence of what is new; the description gives the background to the invention (what was known before the invention, i.e., the "prior art"), and defines the difference between the pre-existent technology and what the invention contributes, as a new matter, as a step forward, to technology development; often patent documents contain also drawings, that illustrate the invention that is claimed.

Technological information is disclosed by describing the inventions in accordance with the requirements of the applicable patent law and by indicating the claimed novelty and inventiveness by reference to the existing state of the art. Certain patent documents are published together with a search report showing a series of references found at the occasion of a documentary search made to establish in a first instance the level of novelty of the claimed invention.

Abstracts

Many patent documents contain an abstract. Abstracts allow a general idea to be formed of the contents of the document within a few minutes, and in any case a much shorter time than would be required to read the full text of the patent document.

Classification

Patent documents bear "classification symbols" which facilitate very much finding and extracting relevant information from them. For the purposes of maintaining search files and performing searches for the state of the art, patent offices classify patent documents according to the field or fields of technology to which their contents relate. Although several classification systems exist, today the International Patent Classification (IPC), which was established by an intergovernmental agreement concluded more than 30 years ago and administered by WIPO, is the most widely applied by all the major industrial property offices. The main part of the high cost of processing and classifying patent documents for building up search files, and of keeping the classification system up to date, is borne directly by the patent offices which publish large numbers of patent documents; users other than the Patent Office itself thus have access to patent documentation without incurring, in addition to their costs as users, the cost of maintaining, developing and classifying their own patent documentation collections. Patent documents belonging to a given classification subdivision contain a highly concentrated supply of usually technically advanced information on a given technological field.

Date

Patent documents bear several dates (date of application, priority date, date of grant) from which conclusions can be drawn as to the age of an invention and to the question of whether the inventions they describe are still under legal protection. If they are no longer legally protected, they can be used without the consent of the patentee.

Inventor, Applicant, Owner

Most patent documents indicate the name and address of the inventor, applicant, the patentee (the owner), and the inventor, or at least one or two of those persons. The information contains also the legal address of at least the owner and/or the applicant. These indications allow any potential licensee to contact the persons concerned in order to find out under what conditions the technology may be transferred.

According to recent WIPO statistics, the number of patent applications filed each year in the world is nearly one and a half million. Those applications result in the grant of more than half a million patents. The number of inventions which are covered by those patent applications and grants is much smaller since each invention gives rise to an average of two or three patent applications in different countries. The number of patent documents published each year, both applications and granted patents, is approximately two million, in many different languages.

There are no exact statistics on the number of patent documents published so far from the beginning of the times when patents were first published. They can, however, be estimated at over 50 million. Normally, only the recent ones are of practical importance for those searching technological information; the older ones are frequently only of historical interest. Nevertheless, access to the older documents is an absolute necessity for any industrial property offices whose law requires it to pass a judgement on the question of whether a given patent application related to an invention is, objectively, new, since such a judgement requires looking at all the existing patent documents likely to disclose a similar invention.

The main user groups of patent information are:

  • industry, and in particular R&D intensive industry;
  • research and development institutions;
  • governmental authorities;
  • small and medium-size enterprises;
  • individual inventors;
  • professionals in the field of industrial property, e.g. administrators of technical libraries, patent agents, researchers, producers of data banks;
  • educational institutions and university students.

In practice, there are various more or less typical reasons for performing searches in collections of patent documents, each of them requiring a slightly different approach in the search method used. Some of the search types are basically concerned with technological information as such, while others are directed towards the processing of patent applications, or relevant to the legal state of a new technology. In the following subparagraphs the individual types of searches are listed separately, whereas it is a well-known fact that many items of bibliographic information may be combined in searching. In general, searches performed by inventors are usually not as exhaustive as the searches done by professionals at patent offices. However, such insights into patent documents are often very useful for the inventor to determine whether someone has already patented a similar invention, or to obtain relevant information about other patents in the same category as his invention.

Pre-Application Searches (PAS)

At first, an invention is just an idea. Many details are not even known or recognized as relevant parts. A novelty search based on a vague idea can only result in a vague picture of the prior art. The patent application process is difficult, time consuming and expensive; therefore, the inventor should conduct a "Pre-Application Search" (PAS) before filling a patent application. In this search, the inventor should look for any printed publications, public knowledge, or patents already issued in his country or a foreign country that may relate to the particular invention.

State-of-the-Art Searches

This kind of search, also referred to as "Informative Search," is made to determine the general state-of-the-art for the solution of a given technical problem as background information for R&D activities and in order to know what patent publications already exist in the field of the technology or research. Further reasons for undertaking this kind of search could be the wish to identify alternative technologies which may replace known technology or to evaluate a specific technology which is being offered for licensing or which is being considered for acquisition. State-of-the-art searches are especially useful for technology development or technology transfer purposes.

Novelty Searches

The objective of a "Novelty Search" is to determine the novelty or lack of novelty of the invention claimed in a patent application or a patent already granted, or of an invention for which no application has yet been filed. The aim of the search is to discover relevant prior art. An early novelty patent search is usually discouraging. Normally, the basic inventive ideas are formulated in such an unspecified way that many publications will apply to this broad description. Dependent on the outcome of the novelty search, the next decision will be whether to stop or to go ahead in developing the invention. If nothing of relevance was found, it is easy and you should go ahead. The decision becomes more difficult if one or several pertinent documents have been found. Most important is to restrict the search to the appropriate area. This may be done by identifying a proper place or places for the subject of the search in the IPC. .

Patentability or Validity Searches

A "Patentability or Validity Search" is made to locate documents relevant to the determination not only of novelty but also of other criteria of patentability, for example, the presence or absence of an inventive step (i.e., the alleged invention is or is not obvious) or the achievement of useful results or technical progress. This type of search should cover all the technical fields, which may contain material pertinent to the invention. Novelty and patentability searches are mainly being carried out by industrial property offices in the course of the examination of patent applications.

Name Searches

These are searches for locating information about published patent documents involving specific companies or individuals, as applicants, assignees, patentees or inventors.

Technological Activity Searches

They are to be understood as searches for identifying companies and/or inventors who are active in a specific field of technology. These searches are also suitable for identifying countries in which a certain technology is being patented, so as to know where to turn to for obtaining particular information in a given field of technology.

Infringement Searches

The objective of an "Infringement Search" is to locate patents and published patent applications, which might be infringed on by a given industrial activity. In this type of search the aim is to determine whether an existing patent gives exclusive rights covering that industrial activity or any part of it.

Patent Family Searches

This kind of search is carried out to identify a member of a "patent family." Patent family searches are used in order to:

  • find the countries in which a given patent application has been filed (if published);
  • find a "patent family member" that is written in a desired language;
  • obtain a list of prior art documents or "References Cited"; and
  • estimate the importance of the invention (by number of patent documents relating to the same invention and being published in different countries or by industrial property organisations).

Legal Status Searches

A search for this type of investigation is made to obtain information on the validity (status) of a patent or a published patent application, on a given date, under the applicable patent legislation in one or more countries. Such information can assist in making decisions on, for example, exporting, or in the negotiation of license agreements. It can also give guidance on the value attached to a particular patent by the patentee.

Advice related to patents

  • WIPO cannot help you to draft a patent application or provide legal advice on obtaining, managing and using a patent. For advice relating to how laws and procedures apply to your specific situations, you should consider contacting a patent attorney.
  • The granting of patents is a matter of national (or sometimes regional) law. WIPO maintains directories of contact details and websites of national and regional patent offices, which may give further information on such matters. National and regional laws are available at WIPO Lex.
  • For information concerning the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), including forms, please consult the PCT website and the Frequently Asked Questions About the PCT.

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