The best-known technical property right is the patent. This is a property right which is subject to examination and offers its proprietor protection against imitation, thereby guaranteeing it an advantage on the market. The patent is examined in relation to three requirements on a formal and a substantive basis: novelty, inventive step and industrial applicability.
The terms ‘novelty’, ‘inventive step’ and ‘industrial applicability’ are defined by the German Patent Act (Patentgesetz), according to which an invention is novel if the overall combination of features of its subject-matter is not known from any document or other publications of the prior art.
An invention is then based on an inventive step if the individual features of an overall combination of features of the subject-matter of an invention cannot be derived by combining a plurality of documents the subject-matter of which is the same or similar in nature.
As a rule, industrial applicability exists if the product of an invention can be manufactured on an industrial basis and is generally able to be used.
The scope of application of a patent is very extensive:
technical articles and methods or processes, for example machines, apparatus, devices, as well as parts thereof; methods or processes for manufacturing products, methods of working and of use.
However, the following are examples of items that are excluded from patent protection: aesthetic designs, rules for games and pure computer programs (software per se – without technical effects), discoveries (the finding of something that already exists, e.g. magnetism, X-rays), and commercial ideas.
The term of a patent, i.e. the term of protection, is a maximum of 20 years from the date of filing of the application. To maintain it, from the third year onwards a fee must be paid to the relevant patent office annually. The fees increase moderately as the term increases.