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What is a patent?

A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem. To get a patent, technical information about the invention must be disclosed to the public in a patent application.

In principle, the patent owner has the exclusive right to prevent or stop others from commercially exploiting the patented invention. In other words, patent protection means that the invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed, imported or sold by others without the patent owner's consent.

Patents are territorial rights. In general, the exclusive rights are only applicable in the country or region in which a patent has been filed and granted, in accordance with the law of that country or region.

The protection is granted for a limited period, generally 20 years from the filing date of the application.

WIPO COVID-19 Response: Launch of a discussion paper on the interplay between patents and trade secrets in medical technologies

The discussion paper addresses how patents and trade secrets interact with each other throughout the innovation process and product value chain in the field of medical technologies, which covers a wide range of products from pharmaceuticals to digital medical devices. The paper also includes a case study regarding the use of patents and trade secrets in Brazil during the COVID-19 pandemic.

More about the authors:

        • Professor Tanya Aplin, The Dickson Poon School of Law, King’s College London, London, United Kingdom
        • Dr. John Liddicoat, Senior Lecturer, The Dickson Poon School of Law, King's College London, London, United Kingdom
        • Mr. Benny Spiewak, Partner, SPLAW Advogados, São Paulo, Brazil

Patent topics and issues

Patents are not just abstract concepts; they play an invaluable, practical role in everyday life. By rewarding ideas, patents encourage the development of innovations and new technologies in every field.

(Photo: breakthrough breast cancer)

Biotech and genes

To what extent are biotechnology processes and products patentable? How do gene patents affect medical care and gene testing research and development? Opinions are divided.

(Photo: iStock.com/adventtr)


While nanotechnology innovations appear generally suitable for patent protection, certain issues require further consideration.

Patent law and treaties

The treaties WIPO administers, together with national and regional laws, make up the international legal framework for patents.  

Patent-related treaties

The first major international agreement relating to the protection of industrial property rights, including patents. It outlines, in particular, national treatment, the right of priority, and a number of common rules in the field of substantive patent law. Find out more about the Paris Convention.

This treaty established an international patent filing system, making it possible to seek patent protection for an invention simultaneously in each of a large number of countries. Find out more about the PCT.

A regularly updated international system for classifying inventions in patent applications, allowing more efficient search and retrieval of patent information. Find out more about the Strasbourg Agreement.

The PLT establishes common and, as a general rule, maximum requirements regarding many of the procedural formalities relating to national/regional patent applications and patents. Find out more about the PLT.

The Budapest Treaty concerns the international disclosure of biotechnological inventions. It stipulates that, for the purpose of the patent procedure, the deposit of microorganisms with an "international depository authority" must be recognized by any contracting state. Find out more about the Budapest Treaty.

IP laws and treaties (WIPO Lex)

The WIPO Lex database is a comprehensive search tool that allows you to search international treaties and national laws on intellectual property.

Guidelines and manuals for national/regional patent offices.

Legislative and policy advice

WIPO provides extensive legislative assistance to developing countries on request, including advice in exploiting the flexibilities under international treaties in implementing their obligations.

Alternatives to Patent Search and Examination PDF, Alternatives to Patent Search and Examination

Standing Committee (SCP)

In the Standing Committee on the Law of Patents (SCP) WIPO works with its member states and observer organizations to develop balanced international frameworks for patent law and policy. Committee members discuss, debate and decide on diverse issues related to the development of patent law to meet society's evolving needs.

Meetings and documents

SCP delegates engaged in discussion
More SCP photos on Flickr. (Photo: WIPO)

Patent filing

PCT — The international patent system

The Patent and Cooperation Treaty (PCT) allows you to make a single international patent application that has the same effect as national applications filed in separate PCT states. In a nutshell, you benefit from one application, in one language paid for in one currency.

DAS and CASE — Services for patent offices

The WIPO Digital Access Service (DAS) allows priority and other similar documents to be securely exchanged among participating intellectual property offices.

The Centralized Access to Search and Examination (CASE) system enables patent offices to securely share the search and examination documentation related to patent applications, facilitating a more effective and efficient international examination process.

Innovation Support

One of the main functions of the patent system is to foster technological innovation by providing an incentive for research and development. The patent system also works to diseminate technical information and promote technology transfer.

(Photo: IPOPHIL)

Technology and Innovation Support Centers (TISCs)

Our Technology and Innovation Support Center (TISC) program gives innovators in developing countries access to high quality technology information and related services to help them create, protect, and manage intellectual property rights.


Technology Transfer

WIPO supports mutually-beneficial technology transfer through patent information services, innovation support programs and tools, projects and activities by WIPO Committees, public-private partnerships and dispute resolution services. We also organize knowledge transfer-related activities, including capacity building and training on transfer of technology.

Inventor Assistance Program (IAP)

The Inventor Assistance Program matches developing country inventors and small businesses with limited financial means with patent attorneys, who provide pro bono legal assistance to secure patent protection.

(Photo: Getty/demaerre)

Patent Drafting Training Program

The Patent Drafting Training Program assists users of the patent system to develop practical skills in drafting and filing patent applications.