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Expired patents can be treasure chests for those seeking to weather the stormy economic climate

The enormous rate at which information and knowledge is being created, distributed and disseminated renders it crucial that minds creating them enjoy protection and security.

Underlining the importance of such protection is that sophisticated nations generally the leaders in technological advances place extraordinary emphasis on how information and knowledge are best protected.

The enormous rate at which information and knowledge is being created, distributed and disseminated renders it crucial that minds creating them enjoy protection and security. and knowledge are best protected.

Underlining the importance of such protection is that sophisticated nations – generally the leaders in technological advances – place extraordinary emphasis on how information In this context, patent systems play a huge role in modern society. In addition to protecting a patentee’s rights to a particular invention, the patent system is characterised by a quid pro quo phenomenon.

Thus, thepeople of a particular country grant the patentee of that country the exclusive rights to the production and use of his, her or its invention in return for the knowledge of how to construct, exercise or make use of the invention. In this way, the people receive the knowledge, while the patentee receives a temporary monopoly.

How and when do the people of the country in question receive this information and knowledge, or at least access it?

Although protection of an invention covered by a patent extends over 20 years from the date of filing of a complete patent application covering the invention, the invention is actually disclosed or made public by publication of its patent specification a few months after filing. Find out more about the process of registering agency patents .

A patent specification accompanies a patent application and fully describes the invention by way of drawings or examples illustrating or exemplifying the invention. A wealth of information and knowledge is thereby locked up in these patent specifications.

Therefore, academics, entrepreneurs, researchers, scientists, or, even company executives should be aware that published patent specifications may be accessed after a certain time lapse from the date of filing of a patent application covering the invention.

In South Africa, a copy of any patent specification can be obtained from the Patent Office after a patent has been granted to the patentee. Intellectual property legislation  in South Africa includes patents, trade marks, registered designs, copyright and unlawful competition.

If a patent application has foreign commercial potential, a patentee could apply for a PCT international patent, which often leads to equivalent patents covering the same invention in multiple foreign countries.

Nowadays, it is quite common to have the PCT international patent application precede a national patent application.

A complete patent specification, as filed for the PCT international patent application, together with drawings and/or examples, is published on the website of the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) within 18 months of the priority date of the invention, at which stage it becomes publicly available.

Although these foreign patent applications may or may not lead to granted patents, it might still be worthwhile to look at what they purport to protect. It may, in addition, give the interested party some insight as to how to improve on the technology explained in a particular patent specification, thereby opening doors for new patent applications.  

The patent document also contains bibliographic data, which, for instance, include references to other relevant patents in the same field and/or information as to how many subsequently filed patents have cited a particular patent.

This normally gives the interested party an idea of the importance of a particular invention when compared to others in its field.

Also obtainable from the bibliographic data is the international classification of the invention covered by the patent or patent application. By combining the classification with relevant search terms, an interested party is able to conduct a proper search on publicly available online patent websites to ascertain whether new technological advances are protected in a particular field of interest.

Patent attorneys can also be contacted to conduct a patent proprietor or a freedom to operate search in a particular country to ascertain whether a certain patent application proceeded to a granted patent in that country. Find out more about intellectual property patents via Bowman Gilfillan Attorneys.   

Note that patent protection is limited to 20 years. A patent only grants a patentee the right to exclude others from making, using, exercising, importing, disposing or offering to dispose of his, her or its invention in a particular country for this period. Thereafter, the public is free to avail itself of those rights, provided the patent is not covered by other types of intellectual property.

Browsing through expired patents can yield a wealth of knowledge and information that could identify new revenue avenues, and help with job creation and business growth.

Seeking a competitive edge? Serious about technological awareness and securing intellectual property assets? Make a concerted effort to access this freely available wealth of information and knowledge.

Theo du Preez is a Patent Attorney at commercial law firm Bowman Gilfillan . Bowman Gilfillan offers services concerning the protection of intellectual property

 
 
   

 

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