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What are Patents?

by Markus Michael de M. Wolff

January 01, 2010

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In searching for the origin of the word "patent", we have found out that it comes from Latin, and the expression "litterae patentes" was used in the Middle Ages for disclosing official communiqués.

Today, a Letters-Patent represents a privilege granted by the State to a determined person or company for a period of time that ranges from 15 to 20 years, depending upon the type of patent.

The privilege granted by the State to an inventor is that of preventing third parties from exploiting the invention or, as defined in the Brazilian Industrial Property Law (No. 9279/96 of May 14, 1996):

"A patent confers on its proprietor the right to prevent third parties from manufacturing, using, offering for sale, selling or importing for such purposes without his consent a product that is the subject of a patent." (Art. 42 of the Patent Law).

In exchange for this privilege, an inventor discloses his invention in detail, and a person skilled in the art should be capable of reproducing the invention, based on its disclosure. On the expiry of the term of privilege, the invention falls into public domain, that is to say, any person whatever is free to exploit it.

This exchange between an inventor and the State meets the interests of both parties, since the inventor has exclusiveness over his invention, ensured by law for a determined period of time, and the society, by means of the State, receives the information on how to reproduce the invention, thus preventing new inventions or creations from remaining in secrecy. The information contained in patents are a powerful instrument of technological development, since this information encourages the search for other solutions for the same technical problem, which should not infringe upon patents of third parties.

If one relies on the media, one may have the impression that patents are something new and that Brazil has only recently begun to protect inventions, which is not true at all.

The first patent law ever known to the world was worked out in Venice in 1474. Another classical example is the American patent law of 1790, created a few years after the independence of that the USA in 1776.

Brazil too has a long legislative tradition in the area of patents. As early as 1809 regent Prince issued a Permit by which inventors were encouraged to submit the plans of their inventions to the Royal Board of Trade, receiving in exchange therefor the exclusive privilege for fourteen years. The present Industrial Property Law No. 9279/96 of May 15, 1996 was promulgated on May 15, 1996 and went into force on May 15, 1997. It is important to note also that Brazil is one of the countries that founded the Paris Convention of 1883. The Paris Convention is one of the main international patent agreements and continuos to be valid until today, having naturally been updated several times. 

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Markus Michael de M. Wolff

Engenheiro Mecânico, Advogado, Agente da Propriedade Industrial

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