Coming SoonA United States Patent is essentially a "grant of rights" for a limited period. In layman's terms, it is a contract in which the United States government expressly permits an individual or company to monopolize a particular concept for a limited time.
Typically, our government frowns upon any type of monopolization in commerce, due to the belief that monopolization hinders free trade and competition, degrading our economy. A good example is the forced break-up of Bell Telephone some years ago into the many regional phone companies. The government, in particular the Justice Department (the governmental agency which prosecutes monopoly or "antitrust" violations), believed that Bell Telephone was an unfair monopoly and forced it to relinquish its monopoly powers over the telephone industry.
Why, then, would the government permit a monopoly in the form of a patent? The government makes an exception to encourage inventors to come forward with their creations. In doing so, the government actually promotes advancements in science and technology.
First of all, it should be clear to you just how a patent acts as a "monopoly. "A patent permits the owner of the patent to prevent anyone else from producing the product or using the process covered by the patent. Think of Thomas Edison and his most famous patented invention, the light bulb. With his patent for the light bulb, Thomas Edison could prevent any other person or company from producing, using or selling light bulbs without his permission. Essentially, no one could compete with him in the light bulb business, and hence he possessed a monopoly.
However, in order to receive his monopoly, Thomas Edison had to give something in return. He needed to fully "disclose" his invention to the public.
To obtain a United States Patent, an inventor must fully disclose what the invention is, how it operates, and the best way known by the inventor to make it.It is this disclosure to the public which entitles the inventor to a monopoly.The logic for doing this is that by promising inventors a monopoly in return for their disclosures to the public, inventors will continually strive to develop new technologies and disclose them to the public. Providing them with the monopoly allows them to profit financially from the invention. Without this "tradeoff," there would be few incentives to develop new technologies, because without a patent monopoly an inventor's hard work would bring him no financial reward.Fearing that their invention would be stolen when they attempt to commercialize it, the inventor might never tell a soul about their invention, and the public would never benefit.
The grant of rights under a patent lasts for a limited period.Utility patents expire 20 years after they are filed.If this was not the case, and patent monopolies lasted indefinitely, there would be serious consequences. For example, if Thomas Edison still held an in-force patent for the light bulb, we would probably need to pay about $300 to buy a light bulb today.Without competition, there would be little incentive for Edison to improve upon his light bulb.Instead, once the Edison light bulb patent expired, everyone was free to manufacture light bulbs, and many companies did.The vigorous competition to do just that after expiration of the Edison patent resulted in better quality, lower costing light bulbs.