Back to: Navigating the Patent System
The purpose of the patent system is to encourage innovation by granting inventors a patent for their inventions. A patent is a governmental grant to inventors of a right to exclude others from making, using, offering for sale, or selling or importing to, the United States, their invention. The United States is willing to grant a patent to an inventor so that they can use the patent to protect their potential future revenue stream. Patents protect this revenue for a limited time.
In exchange, after the patent term expires, the invention is dedicated to the public. Inventors must teach (i.e., enable) the public how to make and use the invention so that after the limited time period (i.e., patent term) for which the patents are enforceable has expired, the public can then take advantage of the innovations taught by the inventor.
In this manner, the patent system is a contract with the government. The benefit of the patent system for the government and the public is that new inventions propel technological advances that the public can use after the expiration of the patent. The benefit to inventors is that they are granted an “exclusionary right” (not unlike a monopoly) over the patented invention for a limited time.1
The basis for the United States patent system is Article I, Section 8, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution, which grants Congress the power “to promote the progress of science and useful arts, by securing for limited times to authors and inventors the exclusive right to their respective writings and discoveries.”
1 To be precise, this is not a monopolistic right because the inventor’s patent right is not a “positive right” to make, use, sell, offer for sale the patented invention in the United States or import the patented invention into the United States. Rather, the patent right is stated as a “negative right,” an exclusionary right that can be asserted against others to stop the enumerated activities listed above.