Patents explained…

The best way to protect an invention may be to keep it secret, but keeping inventions a secret does not help the world to be become more functional. Fortunately, a solution was found to urge inventors to share their inventions so that people will be able to benefit from them: patents! Patents are a type of intellectual property, just like copyrights, trademarks and design rights.

A patent is a trade-off between the inventor and society. The inventor is disclosing its invention and in exchange the state grants him a right to prevent people from using his/her invention during a certain period (in general 20 years). This right is often seen as a legal monopoly.

Patents are national rights. One may have a patent in Germany but not in the Netherlands. This means that the inventor has the right to prevent people from using the invention in Germany but not in the Netherlands. Patents are granted by the authorities, usually through a patent office, taking into consideration that an invention must be truly new, not obvious and have a technical application. The office decides whether the invention is worth a patent.

If someone wishes to use an invention in a country where the inventor has a patent, this person must ask permission from the owner of the patent. If the patent holder agrees, he will grant a license usually in exchange for payment. Patents therefore provide the opportunity to recoup some of the research and development costs: by manufacturing patent-based products themselves, or by selling the patent or licensing it.

By urging knowledge distribution and providing the opportunity for patent holders to receive a just return for their investment, patents promote creativity and innovation. Without patents people and companies may chose not to make the effort, investment and risk to invent something new or to invest in an invention. The patent system is much better for the distribution of knowledge and innovation than an inventor keeping his discovery and the technique behind it a secret. Patents therefore are the enabler of ‘Open Innovation’ and the modern knowledge economy.

Philips is a pioneer in the field of LED lighting. Through considerable efforts in R&D and acquisitions over the past decades, Philips has built a strong patent portfolio covering a wide range of inventions bringing solutions to LED lighting. We are proud to make this available through the LED Luminaire and Retrofit Bulb Licensing Program.

Alexis Dufourcq
IP Counsel