Patents are vital to the world of intellectual property. Whether a company is trying to protect a mass-produced product, or a small, independent content creator is trying to protect their work, a patent is crucial to ensuring that the company or individual receives the credit they deserve for creating that work.

But ultimately, what is a patent? Formally, it is a legal protection that forbids other people from recreating, repurposing or using your work for their purposes without your consent. This is referred to as a “negative right.” In other words, it grants you the right to exclude other people from doing something. Once a patent is granted, then no other person or company can make an independent claim that they created or invented the work protect under patent.

Before a patent is granted, though, there is an extensive patent application process, and the rights granted to the creator applying for a patent are important during this process. For example, before you apply for a patent, you have no legal protections whatsoever. That means that another company or creator could be independently creating a similar (or identical) piece of work to your own and they would not be violating any rules or laws.

Once you apply for a patent though, your work will be deemed as “patent pending.” This alerts other people that your product or work is closing in on an official patent, and that they should refrain from utilizing your product or work. There is another side to this though: falsifying a “patent pending” designation. If you do this, you will be subject to a fine.

Ultimately, once your patent is approved, it effectively grants you a “monopoly” over your work. The patent lasts for 20 years and grants you a wide range of rights.