A patent is a contract between the inventor or applicant for the patent and the State, whereby the inventor or applicant gets a monopoly from the State for a certain period in return for disclosing full details of the invention. The patent system thus ensures that information on new inventions is made available for eventual public use so as to encourage technical and economic development and discourage secrecy.
If an inventor or company has an invention, which they consider to be novel and inventive, they may apply for a patent. This may be granted only after a detailed examination by a patent office. Once the patent is granted the inventor or applicant has the sole right to make, use or sell the invention for a limited period. This period is usually twenty years.
There can also be confusion about what exactly can be protected by the patent system. Patents can only be applied to inventions. These usually have an industrial dimension. An invention is normally a new product, which involves a new principle of operation or an improvement to an old principle. Alternatively it may refer to a new or improved industrial process. Things, which do not involve manufacture, are not usually considered to be inventions. For example, a new scientific theory or a new surgical procedure would not be considered to be patentable for this reason.