1.4 UNDERSTANDING PATENTS
What are Patents?
Patents are a set of exclusive rights granted by a sovereign state to an inventor. These rights are granted for a limited period of time, usually about twenty years. The granting of these rights is in return for public disclosure of the invention.
Criteria for Patentability
Patents protect inventions. These inventions could be either products or processes. All inventions are required to meet the criteria for patentability. These criteria are the presence of a patentable subject matter, novelty, non-obviousness andutility/industrial application. The criterion of an inventive step is particularly important. Mere discoveries are not patentable, and neither are algorithms. Now examine the objects that we discussed in the introductory exercise in greater detail. Would you be granted patents on these objects? Why, or why not?
Patents and the Law
Patents are the subject matter of national legislation. Besides prescribing the patentability criteria laid out in the previous section, legislations also provide the term of protection, the role of patent examiners, ,rights of patent holders, exceptions to patentability, provisions around compulsory licensing, conditions for licensing etc. Recent debates around the subject matter of patentability revolve around patentability of medicines/drugs and software. Different nations tend to adopt differential standards for patentability of drugs and software, leading to the tension at the international level. For instance, while the United States is in favour of patents on software, India adopts a more cautious approach. Similarly, while the drug manufacturer lobby is strong in the United States, and the nation favour the patenting of drugs, India is considered to be the home of generic medicines and drugs, due to its more cautious approach when it comes to the patentability of drugs and medicines.