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Government grant to an inventor of the exclusive right to make, use, or sell an invention, usually for a specified term. It may be granted for a process or method that is new, useful, and not obvious, or for a new use of a known process, machine, or composition of matter or material, including asexually reproduced plants and genetically engineered organisms. It may also be granted for any new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. The first recorded patent for an industrial invention was granted in 1421 in Florence to the architect and engineer Filippo Brunelleschi. Until recently there were wide variations in the patent systems implemented by different countries. The duration of patents recognized generally ranged from 16 to 20 years. In some countries (e.g., France), some patents were given shorter terms because the inventions had an overall general usefulness. In communist countries (e.g., the Soviet Union), patents per se were not recognized; instead, certificates were issued to inventors to ensure that they received some form of compensation for their work. The agreement establishing the World Trade Organization in the 1990s specifies a minimum set of exclusive rights that all patentees must be accorded and mandates a minimum patent term of 20 years from the date an application is filed. Patents are considered personal property and may be sold, assigned, or otherwise transferred.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on patent, visit Britannica.com.