patents | Sciences, technologies and visualizations


A patent is a title of intellectual property that grants protection to an invention. It confers its owner a right to prevent others from using the invention within a delimited area and for a period of time (usually 20 years).

When someone applies for a patent, this is called an "application" until the first validation step at the patent office. Then, it becomes a "publication" that is made public (at the date of publication). If the publication meets the requirements of the patent office, it will be granted. The right to exclude others from using the invention will be enforced after that last step.

Patent family and priority:

To resume our contribution to the definition of patent family on Wikipedia, it is possible to "trace" the story of a technology or invention. From the initial application (one of the priority patents of the family) setting the main features of an invention or technology, it is not unusual that with time this initial patent (priority patent) will be completed (technological extension) or extended to other patent offices (geographical extension) to widen its enforcement.

The collected references have to be mentioned in the documents concerning the patent in order to trace the history of the invention. This set of priorities is called a patent family.

To deal with the millions of patents and the heterogeneity of bureaucratic procedures, there are several methods to set up patent families:

  • Restricted families: all patents of a same family share exactly the same priorities (and in the same order). In that case, patents of a family are generally called equivalents.
  • Extended families: Patents of a same family have at least one priority patent in common (INPADOC families are an example of extended families).

Priority patent:

A patent is called a priority patent when it does not mention a priority (none of the patents belonging to the family is related to the content of this patent on a technological or geographical basis.) This patent can be at the root of a patent family or singleton. A singleton patent is the unique member of a family.

Priority patents are very useful because:

  • The date of invention is recent. If the priority patent is the first application in a family, then it will be the first patent to characterize the invention.
  • They enable to count priority patents rather than the group of applications belonging to a same family. This prevents redundancies related to extensions (geographical or technological) characterizing the same invention and enables to take into consideration several patents for one invention.

Text by Sciences, technologies and visualizations, translation by Hélène Hirsinger

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