A patent protects technical inventions. It gives the inventor a geographically and time-limited privilege to dispose exclusively of the invention. He thus obtains an exclusive right for commercial exploitation of his invention and can prohibit its commercial use by others. Despite his exclusive right, the patent holder must examine whether the use of his invention does not infringe on pre-existing patent rights of others.

At the latest, a patent application is published 18 months after the application date at the patent office. The publication can then provide a basis and a benchmark for further developments in the related field.

Before granting the patent, the invention is examined ex officio by the patent office with regard to the necessary patentability conditions, i.e. novelty, inventive step and industrial applicability. A patent is granted if these conditions are met. The right to prohibit a patent does not start until the patent is granted.

A granted patent lasts a maximum of 20 years from the application date. After the maximal patent duration has expired, inventions in the field of drugs and plant protection products can be protected under certain conditions by supplementary protection certificates for another five years at most.

The effects of a patent are territorially limited. For instance, a nationwide patent can be applied for at the German Patent and Trademark Office, and a patent covering 35 European states can be applied for at the European Patent Office. It is also possible to apply for a PCT patent covering 140 states at an Office acting at the international level.