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Why Does Patent Law Have Boundaries?

by Abraham Robinson
  • Overview

    A patent is the exclusive right granted by a government or a regional patent organization to develop and exploit an invention or innovation. There are, however, some limits on the rights of patent owners.
  • Geographic Limits

    Because patents are issued by a government or regional organization, e.g., the European Patent Office, they have no effect outside of the nation or region that issued them.
  • Regional Offices

    Some regions have joined together to form unified patent policies and patent organizations. The two largest of these are the European Patent Office and the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization. Those living in states that are part of those organizations can apply to the organization and receive a patent that holds in all member states.
  • Patent Cooperation Treaty

    Under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, it is possible to apply at once for a patent to all of the signatories of the treaty. Each state, however, decides on its own if a local patent is granted and may have different local laws limiting patent use.
  • Working Provisions

    Some countries have laws called "working provisions" that place another boundary on the power of patents. These laws require a patented invention to be made use of in the region in which the patent holds. While the penalties for not utilizing the invention vary, failing to do so may result in the loss of the patent.
  • Enforcement

    Even in situations where a patent legally holds, circumstances can sometimes make it difficult or impossible to seek enforcement of the patent. Because patent law usually requires a civil lawsuit to seek enforcement, regional legal differences can make a patent difficult to enforce.

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