According to an information provided by the EPO, the first patent law was passed by the city of Venice in 1474. It protected the interests of inventors by assuring them the right to their inventions and prohibiting unauthorised copying. In 1624, the Statute of Monopolies was enacted in England. This allowed patents to be granted for a limited period to the "true and first inventor". The increasing number of national patent laws led in 1883 to the conclusion of the Paris Convention, providing a guarantee of equal treatment for patent applicants in all its member states.
Facts with numbers
There are more than four million patents in force in the world today, and every year applications are filed for a further 700.000 inventions. Patent protection is sought in an average of four countries per invention. In 2000, patent licensing revenue worldwide stood at USD 100 billion, ten times higher than in 1990. Over 80% of the world's patents are granted by the European Patent Office, the Japanese Patent Office and the United States Patent and Trademark Office. In 2000, the EPO received 140.000 patent applications. Nearly 70% of the world's applicants entrust their international patent applications to the EPO for an opinion on the patentability of their inventions. When carrying out its patent searches, the EPO has access to 38 million documents from over 60 countries. About 50 countries have to some extent or another brought their patent systems into line with the model provided by the European Patent Convention, and many others throughout the world have been influenced by it.
Advantages of the World Wide Patent Systems
Over 80% of the world's stock of technical knowledge is now to be found in patent literature. Published patent applications and granted patents contain a wealth of information on the latest advances in all technical fields. This valuable resource is publicly accessible, in paper form, via the Internet and in various other media. "esp@cenet" provides 30 million patent documents from more than 50 countries, free of charge. It is significantly useful in that it helps improve awareness, in particular among small and medium-sized companies, of the kinds of patent-related information available to the public. Its use promotes the transfer of technology, making it possible to avoid duplicated research and parallel development, and acting as a stimulus to innovation and investment.
A patent is not a stamp of technical excellence. A patent does not give its owner the right to make use of his invention. A patent is not a guarantee of commercial success. A patent gives its owner the right to prevent others from commercially using his invention.
A patent is an exclusive right granted to the applicant/inventor to exploit an invention professionally. Subject matter of an invention protected with a patent may be a product, method, device or use. For an invention to be patentable, it is required that the invention fulfils following requirements:
novelty; An invention is considered new if it does not form part of the state of the art.
inventive step; An invention is considered as involving an inventive step if it is not obvious to a skilled person having regard to the state of the art.
industrial applicability; An invention is considered as industrially applicable if it can be applied in a part of the industry including agriculture. It should however be noted that this definition varies by the laws of different countries.
On the part of the commercial foundations;
The purpose and effects of patents may be summarized as follows:
. recouping investment in research and production,
. strengthening market position and improving competitiveness
. spreading new technical knowledge
. fostering technical innovation avoiding R&D duplication.