A patent protects an invention upon which a new product or production process can be based. It provides 20 years of protection in return for full disclosure of the details of the invention.
Often a patent is an essential prerequisite for attracting the investment required for the further development of an (academic) invention (technology or product) as the large investment will have to be recouped.
Industrial parties often use patents to achieve market domination and therefore file as many patents as they can afford. Academic institutions on the other hand use patents as a tool to get companies on board. If there is no licensee or business that will further develop the invention, the patent is useless and will not be pursued. By granting a license on a patent (companies pay in order to be able to use the invention) transfer of technology can occur. An other way is setting up a start-up to which the patent rights can be licensed. Utrecht Holdings has founded several start-ups for this reason.
When patent your invention
In contrast to popular belief, a patent does not prohibit the publication of data in journals. All it takes is timing and coordination. Patents should always be applied for before disclosing data in public (e.g. abstracts, posters, lecutres). Any disclosure prior to applying for a patent renders the invention unpatentable. The application for a patent can take between a few weeks and several months. Publication can occur as soon as the patent application has been submitted to the Patent Agency (USPTO/EPO).
A patent is a national right and therefore only valid in the countries in which it is granted. It provides protection for a limited time period (usually 20 years) from the application date of the patent onwards. Enforced by patent law, an invention must meet three criteria in order to qualify for patent protection:
The product or process may not have been made public in any manner whatsoever, anywhere in the world prior to the submission of the patent application. If someone is planning to communicate their invention to a third party, they can ensure confidentiality by entering into a confidentiality agreement.
2. Inventive Step
The invention may not be obvious to a colleague on the basis of the (public) state of the technology at that point in time. Even if the invention could be recreated by combining two independent (third party) disclosures, this may prohibit it from obtaining a patent. The Inventive Step requirement often is the most difficult hurdle to take before a patent application is granted.
3. Industrial applicability
The finding or discovery must be demonstrably applicable in a well-functioning product or production process. It needs to be demonstrated in practice or, at the very least, its plausibility has to be proven.
Hypotheses, discoveries (existing processes in, for example, nature), services, scientific theories, mathematical methods, ideas without tangible development options and aesthetic designs are excluded from patent protection. However, other forms of protection may be applied in some of these instances such as copyrights or trademarks. Software as such is not patentable outside the USA, but can be covered by method patents in specific cases. Unethical matter is also excluded from patent protection. The same goes for the medical treatment of the body although this does not apply to therapies and medication.
Ownership and renumeration
The Rijksoctrooiwet 1995 and the Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht CAOs state that inventions made by UU or UMCU staff are the property of the employer. In return the employer is obliged to compensate the employee appropriately, should income be generated by the successful commercialization of a patent. Arrangements have been made by Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht about the sharing of costs and revenues. Both the UU and UMCU have a personal incentive scheme for inventors/employers. For details, please refer to Policies & Models or contact one of our team members: email@example.com.
Patent search tools
Below are some helpful links if you want to do searches on patents:
- US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO)
- Esp@cenet – Espacenet offers free access to more than 70 million patent documents worldwide, containing information about inventions and technical developments from 1836 to today.
- Derwent Innovations Index – Includes patent coverage back to 1963 and patent citations back to 1973, from 47 patent-issuing authorities.
- Google Patents – Experimental but highly useful
For more information, and access to patent databases, please visit the website of the NL Patent Office or NL Octrooicentrum.