A patent protects new technical inventions. A patent owner is granted the privilege to exclusively dispose of his invention within a limited region and for a fixed period of time. He can interdict any unauthorized commercial use of the patent, and he can economically profit from an invention.
In return, there are certain legal obligations on part of a patent owner. With the filing of a patent application a patent owner agrees that his invention is published. Thus a patent can serve to other inventors as a measure and basis of further developments in the respective technical field.
Patents play an important part in managerial decisions. Patent literature searches help to avoid expensive and unnecessary double developments. They also help to prevent the risk of infringing foreign protective rights. The number of patent applications filed and/or the number of patents which are maintained by a company speak for a company’s innovation potential. They are an important factor for the assessment of companies.
A patent is obtained if a legally prescribed procedure is passed through with a positive result. The protective right and the right to forbid become effective only with the grant of a patent.
A granted patent is retrospectively effective as of the filing date and for a maximum period of 20 years. Inventions concerning pharmaceuticals and pesticides are an exception. After the expiration of the maximum patent duration they can be protected for additional five years under certain circumstances by supplementary protection certificates.
The rights from a granted German patent can be claimed only within Germany. To extend the protection of a patent also to foreign countries, the filing of European or international patent applications is recommended, though the filing of national applications in foreign countries is also possible.
A quick an inexpensive way of obtaining protection for technical inventions (except of processes such as a production process for instance) is offered by a utility model. Applications can be filed also for chemical substances, food and pharmaceuticals. While the grant of a patent may sometimes take several years, a utility model can be registered already a few weeks after its filing. Hence, the utility model is an option for obtaining a full and enforceable protective right within only a short time.
During the registration process, the German Patent and Trademark Office will examine the formal and material qualifications, and its Utility Model Section will determine for instance, whether the invention is a technical invention.
Considering that novelty, inventiveness and industrial applicability are not examined, it is advisable to make sure that the qualifications for an effective protective right are in fact given. This may be done by conducting searches prior to or by the time of filing an application. The longest possible period of protection of a utility model is ten years. The initial period of protection is three years. A prolongation of the protective term is possible after three, six and eight years, respectively by the payment of a prolongation fee.
Trademarks characterize products and services. They can stand for the quality of an enterprise, are part of the intellectual property of the enterprise and constitute an asset.
Everybody can apply for the registration of a trademark. Words, illustrations, characters, numbers, colors and acoustic signals can be protected as a trademark. Accessible to trademark protection are trademarks which are suitable to distinguish goods or services of one enterprise from goods or services of other enterprises.
Trademark protection is obtained by registration in the trademark register of the German Patent and Trademark Office. But trademark protection can also accrue from secondary meaning acquired by a mark as a result of its intensive use in business or by notoriousness. With the registration of a trademark the trademark owner acquires the exclusive right to use the trademark for the goods and/or services which are protected by it. The owner of a trademark may license the use of his mark to third parties.
A trademark can be renewed as often as desired. A renewal fee has to be paid after ten years, respectively.
Trademarks which are registered at the German Patent and Trademark Office are effective exclusively for the region of Germany. If it is desired to extend protection, a request for international registration (IR) can be filed. If protection is desired in the countries of the European Union, the filing of a community trademark is recommended.
Appropriate protection for a product design is offered by the design registration. The design registration protects the design of three-dimensional objects such as pieces of furniture, cars etc. An application for a design registration can be filed also for two-dimensional patterns such as drapery, hangings, logos, graphic designs etc.
A registered design grants the exclusive right of use of a design. It interdicts any unauthorized use of the design by third parties. This covers both offering products in which the design is used and manufacturing, selling or importing and exporting such products.
Design protection is obtained with the registration of the design in the design register of the German Patent and Trademark Office. A design protection can be maintained up to 25 years after the filing date by the payment of prolongation fees.
Designs which are registered at the German Patent and Trademark Office enjoy protection exclusively for the region of Germany. If worldwide use of a design is intended, a European community design application or an international design (IR) application should be filed.