The term patent refers to the government protection given to an invention when the inventor publically discloses that product.

In general, once a patent is granted by a government, non-patent holders aren’t allowed to use, distribute, sell, or make the patented product, unless agreed to by the patentee (patent owner/holder). In most cases, this means fees need to be paid to the patent owner either as a commission (percentage of the revenue created by the product sold using the patented invention) or as a lump sum. In cases where industry competition is steep (i.e. medical industry and electronics industry) this usually means that the patent owner will not allow its competitors to use the patented invention at all.

Many companies patent inventions that they won’t be using in the foreseeable future. They do this because they do not want their competitors to be able to use that technology as well, at least for the duration of the patent, which is 20 years in most cases. Because of this patenting laws have been widely criticized due to its restrictive nature and has been blamed for allowing monopolies to flourish.

Laws governing patents, including the kinds of inventions that can be patented, the length or duration of patents, and procedures for filing and granting patents vary for each country.