Types of patents

Standard patent

You can protect your device, substance, method or process using a standard patent. A standard patent provides long-term protection and control over an invention, lasting up to 20 years. A pharmaceutical patent is a particular kind of standard patent that can last up to 25 years, in certain circumstances.

You can no longer apply for an innovation patent, which was a quick and inexpensive protection option, lasting a maximum of 8 years.

Patent protection is reliant on the payment of fees during the life of the patent. If a required fee is not paid the patent will be in a 'state of lapse' and unless the fee is paid within a set time, the patent will lapse permanently. Once the patent lapses you cannot enforce your rights and others may benefit from your hard work.

Innovation patents filed on or before 25 August 2021 remain in force until they expire.

Pharmaceutical patent

A pharmaceutical patent is a standard patent that can give protection for up to 25 years for pharmaceutical substances. The Australian Patent Office allows for an extension of up to 5 years beyond the standard 20-year patent term for certain pharmaceutical patents. A pharmaceutical patent protects the IP rights of both the creators and owners, and provides time for innovators to secure the heavy research and development investment required in the chemical, medical and health fields.

This extension of the patent term for pharmaceuticals is to compensate pharmaceutical companies who would otherwise be unable to take full advantage of the 20-year term of their patents, due to a delay in obtaining regulatory approval for new products. Strict eligibility requirements apply and only some pharmaceutical products qualify. By allowing a full 'actual' patent term, costly investment into the research areas of medicine, chemistry and biotechnology is more achievable. This investment further allows others to extend upon what is currently known.

What can't be patented

You cannot patent abstract ideas, artistic creations, mathematical models, plans, schemes or other purely mental processes. For example, it would not have been possible to patent Einstein's theory of relativity depicted by the formula 'E=mc2'. This formula is an idea or theory of nature and not a specific device or process.

Laws of nature, such as Newton's law of gravity, are also unpatentable. However, inventions that apply these theories are patentable. Discoveries such as naturally existing chemical compounds are not patentable, but a new method of using the compound might be.

Other subject matter that cannot be patented includes inventions that would be 'contrary to law' (such as a new process to print counterfeit money) and foods or medicines that are merely mixtures of individual ingredients without any particular interaction (such as a new cake or scone recipe).

After a patent has been granted, it may, during its term, still be subject to legal challenges to its validity. You should seek professional advice where any legal challenge is made.

Also consider...

  • Visit IP Australia for information about patents. Topics include: about the application process; how to search for a patent; how to apply for a patent; and how to renew your patent.
  • Visit the Institute of Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys of Australia—a representative body for Australian patent and trademark attorneys. This site provides the latest news and resource information about patent and trademark law in Australia.
  • Use the directory of registered attorneys published by the Trans-Tasman IP Attorneys Board—a group that administers the patent attorney professions in Australia and New Zealand and the trademarks profession in Australia.