In principle refers to the governmental grant of a monopoly, right, privilege, or authority, usually providing the grantee with the ability to prevent others from engaging in a particular activity or selling particular goods or services without the patent holder’s consent. Abuse and corruption in the grant of patents, particularly by Elizabeth I, led to the 1624 Statute of Monopolies which was both the first English statute confining the grant of patents to new inventions and, by abolishing the existing legal monopolies, was an early form of antitrust or competition law.

In the modern context, it has come to mean the exclusive right to sell an invention, provided it is novel  and non-obvious, for a period of years. Patents are exclusively granted on new and useful inventions and grant the holder the sole right to practice the invention for a set period of time, which under the TRIPS is twenty years from the date on which the patent was applied for. Holders of patents may themselves exploit the sole right or alternately license others to practice the invention.

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