What is a Patent?

If you’re new to the world of intellectual property, you may have heard the term “patent” before, but you might not know exactly what it means. A patent is a legal document that grants the holder exclusive rights to an invention for a certain period of time.

Patents are an important part of the modern economy, as they encourage innovation by allowing inventors to protect their ideas and prevent others from using or profiting from them without permission. In this post, we’ll dive deeper into what patents are, how they work, and why they’re important.

Whether you’re an inventor looking to protect your intellectual property or simply interested in learning more about the legal side of innovation, this post is for you. So let’s get started!

So, What is a Patent?

A patent is a legal document that gives the holder exclusive rights to manufacture, use, and sell an invention for a certain period of time, usually 20 years from the date of filing. The purpose of a patent is to encourage innovation by providing inventors with a way to protect their ideas from being copied or stolen by others.

In order to obtain a patent, an invention must meet certain criteria, including being novel, non-obvious, and useful. Once granted, a patent gives the holder the right to prevent others from making, using, or selling the invention without their permission.

Three Types of Patents.

These three are:
  • Utility;
  • Design; and
  • Plant.

Utility Patents

Utility patents are what people think of when they think “patents.” Utility patents are patents on useful items. These are the patents one would get on an invention. Such a patent covers the “usefulness of a product,” meaning that a utility patent will protect the useful or functional aspects of an invention.

Design Patents

Design patents are to the ornamental design of an object. Design patents are to protect the design elements of an invention.

Plant Patents

Plant patents are to cover new types of flowering plants that can be reproduced asexually. Flowers are plant sex organs and contain both the male and female parts. Pollen is basically “plant sperm. (Something to keep in mind during allergy season.) Plant patents thus apply to plants that are engineered to reproduce without the use of pollen.

What is patentable?

When a product or process is new and useful, it is very likely that it is patentable. To be patentable, an invention must satisfy three basic elements. The invention must be:
  • New,
  • Useful, and
  • Not obvious.


The requirement of being “new” (also called the “novelty” requirement) To get a patent on an invention, the invention must actually be new. In practicing patent law, much of the process focuses on explaining how and why the invention is different from what came before.Everything that came before is referred to as the “prior art.”

The invention cannot be expressly or implicitly disclosed in any “prior art” references. If there is already a patent for the invention, a patent application for the invention, a description of the invention in a printed publication, or a product in use that already uses the process used by the invention, the invention does not meet the novelty requirement.


Usefulness, also referred to as the “utility requirement,” is—in practice—one of the easier parts of the process. After all, as the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention. Inventions are almost always solutions to problems.

The mere fact that it’s a solution to an existing problem makes it useful. The utility requirement requires us to answer the questions “Does the invention do anything?” and “Does the invention work?” with “Yes”.

Not Obvious

Non-obviousness is a different problem from novelty. To some extent, all inventions are combinations of older inventions. Is the combination that comprises the invention in question obvious?

An obviousness inquiry asks whether combining the two older inventions would be obvious to “one skilled in the art.” One skilled in the art is similar to the “reasonable person” who appears frequently in other areas of law, but in this case, the reasonable person is one who works in or is skilled in the field of the invention.

What Rights Does a Patent Confer?

A patent is not the right to make and use your invention. It is the inverse. It is the right to prevent others from making, using, or importing the invention claimed in the patent.

If a process is covered by a patent, then any product that uses that patented process is infringing on that patent. The allegedly infringing product is compared with the claims in the original patent to see if the product used the patented process, thus infringing on the patent.

As a corollary to this, a patent cannot allow the use of a process that was previously patented by someone else. However, an improvement on an existing product can be patented. While the patent on the original product stays with the original patent holder, the new patent can cover the improvement. While the party who patents the improvement does not get rights to the original patent, the holder of the original patent likewise has no rights to the patented improvement.

So, is Your Invention Patentable?

If it is new, useful, and not obvious, then the answer is yes. A patent application may then be drafted and filed with the Kenya Industrial Property Institute and will be registered as your invention for a period of 20 years. If one is granted a patent, one then has the right to keep others from making, using, or importing one’s invention without one’s permission.

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