What is Letters Patent?

Letters patent is a type of legal instrument, in the form of a published written order, issued by a governing power, such a king, president, head of state or corporation, that gives a patentee an exclusive right or privilege.

Key Takeaways

  • Letters patent is a type of legal instrument, in the form of a published written order, issued by a governing power, such a king, president, head of state or corporation, that gives a patentee an exclusive right or privilege.
  • A letters patent is not sealed, rather it is open for public viewing at the patent and trademark office.
  • A letters patent gives the rights of an invention to a person or entity for a limited period, usually for 20 years.

Understanding Letters Patent

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

A letters patent is not sealed, rather it is open for public viewing at the patent and trademark office. A 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.

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 peersof 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.