The patent system … secured to the inventor, for a limited time, the exclusive use of his invention; and thereby added the fuel of interest to the fire of genius, in the discovery and production of new and useful things.[1]

2.1 A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the State to the inventor of a new, inventive and useful product or process. This chapter provides an outline of the patent system by reference to its historical origins, the goals of patent law, the nature of patent rights, and the criteria for patentability.

2.2 As noted in Chapter 1, the ALRC has not been asked to undertake a wholesale review of the patent system, or its goals, but to examine ways in which the patent system can be changed to ‘further the health and economic benefits of genetic research and genetic and related technologies’.[2]

2.3 The goals of the patent system are fundamentally economic—to encourage the provision of new and useful goods and services and reward inventiveness, including in the biotechnology sector and other areas of economic activity involving gene patents. The economic benefits derived from the patent system as a whole are examined in this chapter—together with other factors that may counteract the economic benefits of patents in some situations.

[1] A Lincoln, ‘Second Lecture on Discoveries and Inventions, delivered to the Phi Alpha Society of Illinois College at Jacksonville, Illinois, February 11, 1859’ in R Basler (ed) The Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln (1953), 357.

[2] See Terms of Reference, reproduced at the front of this Report.