Patent rights afford the patentee the exclusive right or monopoly to enjoy the full benefit of your invention. You will be entitled to exclude others from importing, manufacturing, using, distributing, selling or offering for sale your patented invention or patented technology in the country where it is patented or in a patent territory.
The patent process is usually commences with the filing of a provisional patent application. If your provisional patent application is filed in one of the contracting states of the Paris Convention you will have the option to file complete patent applications (also referred to as national phase patent applications), within one year of filing the provisional patent application, in all countries or regions of choice. Your invention will thus, in effect, be protected in all contracting states for one year. The date of filing of a provisional patent application is referred to as the priority date.
ARIPO or OAPI are examples of regional patent systems in Africa and include many African countries.
Another option, instead of filing complete (national) or regional patent applications within the priority year, would be to file a Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) patent application. A PCT patent application is a patent application filing system established through the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO). When a PCT patent application is filed, national or complete patent applications have to be filed within 30 months or, in some cases 31 or even 34 months, from the earliest priority date. A PCT patent application thus delays the filing of national patent applications for a further 18 months or up to 22 months in some cases. Such an international patent application filed through the PCT has certain advantages. First, a search report is established. The search report provides a good indication of the patentability of the invention. Secondly, the PCT patent application process delays the filing of national phase patent applications and thus delays the patenting costs associated therewith. This may be an advantage if the applicant wishes to obtain patents in a relatively large number of countries.
Inventions, whether they are processes, methods, devices, are patentable if they are new and inventive. “New”, in this regard, means that the invention must not be publicly known, anywhere in the world. To be inventive, the invention must involve an inventive step i.e. the invention must not be obvious to a person of ordinary skill in the relevant art, having regard to all matter (prior art) that was part of the state of the art immediately before the priority date of the invention.
You can obtain a patent for an idea (“patent your idea”) as long as the idea can work i.e. can be implemented. You do not require a working model or process to obtain a patent.
A patentability search provides an indication of the patentability (novelty and inventiveness) of an invention. These searches are never conclusive but provide some indication of the patentability of an invention. In many cases, the inventor has a good idea of the patentability of the invention and elects not to have searches conducted and to commence with the patenting process at risk.
Patents are territorial monopolies and infringement searches (Infringement searches are also sometimes referred to as freedom-to-operate or clearance searches) have to be conducted in all countries (or, in some cases, territories), where one wishes to distribute a product or implement a process. Infringement searches are advisable where a large capital outlay is envisaged to introduce a product or process into a market, to ensure that one cannot be interdicted by third parties holding patents for such products, processes or methods.