The essentials of Intellectual Property Rights

As engineers, we are always concerned with improving our existing systems, processes and equipment and devise new ones to increase productivity, efficiency, convenience and environment-friendliness, and ultimately make more profits! Naturally, every one of us wishes to get the credit we deserve for our novelties. This is where intellectual property rights come in – they primarily ensure that everybody gets due credit for their inventions, and nobody else can unfairly utilize their innovations. In the paragraphs to follow, we have covered some aspects and standard terms related to IP in a chemical engineering context.


According to the WIPO, ‘A patent is an exclusive right granted for an invention, which is a product or a process that provides, in general, a new way of doing something, or offers a new technical solution to a problem.’ “Exclusive right” here means that nobody other than the patent holder for the invention can make use of the invention for commercial purposes without the permission of the patent holder. In return, the inventor agrees to make an enabling public disclosure of the invention. An enabling disclosure signifies that it contains sufficient information for somebody to reciprocate the invention. A patent has a term (typically 20 years from the date of filing the patent) after which anyone can utilize the contents of the patent without the need of the inventor’s permission. 

It is important to note that a patent is an ‘exclusionary right’, meaning it only prevents others from using an invention and does not enable the patent holder to market or sell it. For example, say someone discovers that a particular pigment of paint is an excellent insect repellent and file a patent to claim the new application of the substance. This does not imply that the person can now sell the pigment as an insect repellent, and they would still have to go through all the regulatory procedures to get approval from the relevant governing bodies for production and sale. 

A patent application can contain several claims which are scrutinized rigorously by the patent office, and it can often be expensive and time-consuming. Therefore, sometimes companies tend to resort to other methods such as keeping trade-secrets.


An exclusivity agreement in the context of a business acquisition stipulates that the seller cannot pursue an offer from another potential buyer for a particular duration of time subsequent to the signing of the letter of intent (LOI).

The pros of having exclusivity are that we can have large orders of business quickly, security in transactions, and also less amount of advertising, and a major con would be limitations on generic manufacture and may cause a delay in providing affordable drugs to the poor.

Specifically, in the pharmaceutical industry, exclusivity refers to certain prohibitions and delays on the approval of competitor drugs available under the statute that attach upon approval of a drug or of certain supplements. A new drug application (NDA) or abbreviated new drug application (ANDA) holder is the one who is eligible for exclusivity if the necessary requirements are met.

Copyright Laws

Copyright Laws give the authority to the authors, artists, and original creators to protect their original creations. These original creations are also referred to as “works”. The permissions are granted to the heirs and successors however to use. The works of the creators, these are also called “right holders”. The right holders can choose to allow or stop others from reproducing the works in any form, performing in public, communicating, broadcasting, translating and adapting from one form to another.

Many times a large financial investment is required to protect the copyright laws, thus usually creators handover the rights to companies who would be able to market the work and be able to generate revenues as compensation for the work being used.

The copyrights are obtained without the need for registration; however, many countries require optional registrations and deposit of works. This helps in resolving conflicts in ownership, sales and transactions.


Intellectual Property (IP) is a complicated subject that falls under the domain of law. However, it is something that every engineer should know in order to prevent unintentional infringement of others’ rights and protecting their own.

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