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Home > Human and Intellectual Capital Checklists > Intellectual Property—Patents—An International Overview

Human and Intellectual Capital Checklists

Intellectual Property—Patents—An International Overview

Checklist Description

This checklist provides an international overview of patents.

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As seen previously, intellectual property is a legal concept that enables the ownership of creations as physical property. It entitles the owner of intellectual property rights to take advantage of his/her ownership and charge for the use of the property or to sell it.

A patent is an intellectual property right that is awarded to an inventor. Each country has its own laws regarding the registration of patents, so to protect a patent in more than one country it has to be registered in each of the relevant countries. A patent gives protection for an average period of 20 years.

A patent prevents others from selling, using, or making the invention in a particular country or importing the invention into that country. Unlike the other intellectual property rights, it grants only the exclusivity nature of that right and not the right itself. An inventor can sell, use, or make his or her invention without a patent.

There are three recognized forms of patent: utility patents, which cover machines and processes; design patents, which cover the design and composition of matter; and plant patents, which are related to plant.

In general, only the inventor can apply for a patent. Any person who falsely claims to be the inventor will be liable to criminal penalties. An inventor can apply for a patent him/herself, but in most cases a specialized patent agent and attorney are appointed to deal with the application. This is because the process itself is complicated and specialist knowledge is required to deal with the application.

Not every invention can be patented. To qualify for a patent, an invention has to be new—which means that it has not been patented before, or described before in any specialized publication—anywhere in the world. The invention also has to have a useful purpose from an operational point of view.

In the United States, applications for patents are made to the US Patent and Trademark Office.

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  • A patent gives an inventor the right of exclusivity over an invention.

  • It allows the inventor to take legal action against any person who uses the invention without permission, and to receive compensation for that use.

  • Only the inventor can apply for a patent.

  • A patented invention will be more valuable to an investor.

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  • Patent registration can be expensive and meticulous in terms of the detail required.

  • Not all inventions are patentable.

  • In general, patents need to be renewed. The average duration of protection is 20 years.

  • Registration is limited to a particular territory. To protect an invention in other countries and territories, new registrations are required.

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Action Checklist

  • To avoid future problems, always consider obtaining a patent for your invention.

  • Obtain advice on whether your invention is patentable.

  • Investigate the cost of registration and the countries in which your invention may need to be protected.

  • Balance the cost of obtaining a patent against the possible cost of leaving the invention without a patent and the time spent defending your rights if they are breached.

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Dos and Don’ts


  • Consider obtaining a patent for your invention.

  • Balance the cost of applying for a patent against the consequences of nonapplication.

  • As the application process is complex, budget for instructing a patent agent to apply for you.

  • Think carefully about other countries and territories in which your invention may need protection by registering the patent.


  • Don’t think that by inventing something it will automatically qualify for a patent. Not all inventions are patentable.

  • Don’t ignore a breach or infringement of your patent. Take action.

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Further reading


  • Stim, Richard W. Intellectual Property: Patents, Trademarks and Copyrights. 2nd ed. Florence, KY: Delmar Cengage Learning, 2000.
  • US Department of Commerce. Patents and How to Get One: A Practical Handbook. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2003.


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