A patent allows the patent holder to enforce exclusionary rights to an invention for 20 years from the date of the patent application's filing. "Exclusionary" means that a patent does not give someone the right to practice the invention they have patented—instead, it gives them the right to exclude others from practicing it.
To be granted a patent, an invention must be judged by the applicable government's patent office to be new, novel and non-obvious. It is worth noting that patent law and what qualifies as patentable do not always align with great science: some inventions are unpatentable by law despite having won the Nobel Prize!
In a university setting, patents can serve different purposes. University innovations are often very early-stage, and benefit from further development before being moved into the public sphere. At UO, our mission is to encourage and accelerate that development by connecting with existing companies, new ventures and other entities that have the capacity to invest the time and research needed to bring early-stage innovations to the marketplace.
The 20-year time period of exclusivity provided by a patent provides a key competitive edge for these companies, as it allows them to develop and recoup their investment in the technology. When considering patentable innovations it is important to connect with industry or form a new venture early on to take advantage of the time window for adoption, and to avoid asserting patent rights against companies that may have adopted the technology in the marketplace.
Patenting also ensures that materials and methods developed are disclosed to the public along with academic publication and made available for use by other academic institutions. Patenting or trademarking an innovation that involves a technique or method will also protect the method, by defining the proper mode of practice and standardizing the technique. This is especially important in areas where interoperability and standards are essential concerns, such as with computers, cell phones or the Internet.
If you have an invention, discovery or technology and would like to discuss the possibility of IP protection, or if you have any other questions about patents, please contact Innovation Partnership Services. Because patent rights can be diminished or lost if a public disclosure is made prior to filing an application, we encourage you to contact us before disclosure occurs and we will work with your timeline to file.
For an in-depth discussion of the rights conferred by patents, trademarks and copyright, visit the United States Patent and Trademark Office website.