Letters Patent

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.

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  1. The National Archives. "Royal Grants in Letters Patent and Charters from 1199." Accessed Mar. 12, 2021.

  2. United States Patent and Trademark Office. "General Information Concerning Patents." Accessed Mar. 12, 2021.