The utility patent
What is a utility patent?
A utility patent is an intellectual property right which provides its owner with an exclusive exploitation right of the concerned invention for a limited time, generally twenty years (in Switzerland, medicines and pesticides can benefit of a five year extension protection). This exclusive right constitutes a form of reward for the owner who had to make efforts and use financial resources to carry out the invention, by according a monopoly of exploitation limited in time enabling him to return on its research and development efforts.
In counterpart, the owner of the patent has to disclose his invention in the patent in a sufficiently clear and complete manner for a "skilled in the art" (i.e. a man who is a specialist in the technical field in question) such that he is able to understand and implement the invention on the basis of the disclosure.
At the patent's expiration, after the 20 year term or earlier for various reasons such as the non-payment of a renewal fee, the invention falls in the public domain, in other words it becomes free of exploitation.
In Switzerland, the exclusive right of exploitation relates, in addition to the use and the implementation of the invention, to the offering to sale, the selling, the bringing of the invention into circulation and the importation of the invention to these ends.
It has to be kept in mind that "exclusive right of exploitation" does not necessarily means "freedom to operate". It may happen, indeed, that a third party has a prior patent having a broader scope than a subsequent patent held by another party and the protection of which encompasses the subject-matter of the subsequent patent. Thus, even if the other party is the only one who has the right to exploit the object of his subsequent patent, he could not do so without the prior consent of the third party who owns the prior patent with a wider scope.
Functions of a patent
The patent owner has an advantage on the market as far as he can prohibit his competitors to use the corresponding new technology or he can require them to pay (license agreement) so that they are allowed to use it.
The patent may also be used as part of an economical strategy or a business strategy of the company.