First, it is important to know what inventions and patents are.

An invention can be, for example, a product, a process or an apparatus. To be patentable, it must be new, industrially applicable and involve an inventive step.

Patents are valid in individual countries for specified periods. They are generally granted by a national patent office, or a regional one like the EPO. Patents confer the right to prevent third parties from making, using or selling the invention without their owners‘ consent.

Patents should not be confused with the other kinds of intellectual property rights available:

  • utility models can be registered in some countries, to protect technical innovations which might not qualify for a patent
  • copyright protects creative and artistic works such as literary texts, musical compositions and broadcasts against unauthorised copying and certain other uses
  • trade marks are distinctive signs identifying brands of products or services; they may be made up of two- or three-dimensional components such as letters, numbers, words, shapes, logos or pictures, or even sounds
  • designs and models protect a product’s visual appearance, i.e. its shape, contours or colour.


Before applying for a patent, it is advisable to carry out a patent search.