DEFINITION of 'Letters Patent'

Letters patent are a legal instrument that grants the exclusive rights of an invention to an individual or a corporation. A letters patent is granted by the government to an individual, giving him or her the rights to authorship or to a patent for a new invention or discovery. The new invention is required to provide a different way of doing something or a new solution.

BREAKING DOWN 'Letters Patent'

A letters patent is not sealed. It is open for public viewing at the patent and trademark office. The letters patent gives the rights of an invention to a person or entity for a limited period, usually for 20 years. The government may also refer to a patent as a "license" giving its holder rights to the innovative process, design or invention for a certain amount of time.

The opposite of letters patent is letters close, which are personal in nature and sealed so that only the recipient can read their contents.

Letters patent are predominately an English topic, as they are issued for the appointment of representatives of the Crown, such as governors and governors-general of Commonwealth realms, as well as appointing a Royal Commission. In the United Kingdom, they are also issued for the creation of peers of the realm. A particular form of letters patent has evolved into the modern patent (referred to as a utility patent or design patent found in U.S. patent law) granting exclusive rights in an invention (or a design in the case of a design patent.)

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