A patent is a protection for a new product or process that has been invented that gives the exclusive right of use to the owner for a period of 20 years. The Intellectual Property Office publish the patent 18 months after registration of the invention so that the public get advance knowledge of new technological developments but they are not allowed to make use of them until the expiry of the patent period. The invention to be patented must be kept confidential until the patent is application has been processed and the patent granted. The application is a lengthy process and requires a full description of the invention and the payment of fees.
Patents are territorial rights so it is necessary to register a patent in each country where it is to be protected although it is possible to file a single European patent giving protection in a number of European countries.
It is possible to object to a patent if you have a dispute about ownership or you have concerns about the validity if a patent. In the UK the Intellectual Property Office can settle disputes about ownership, licences and other technical issues.
For more information on patents go to: http://www.ipo.gov.uk/types/patent.htm