What is a “patent and know-how licence” and when is it useful?

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In certain cases, having licence rights to a patent will not be enough for the licensee to use, exploit or manufacture the related invention in an efficient way. Beyond the patented innovation, the licensee will in many cases need access to the unpatented technical information which relates to it.

In such cases, instead of a mere patent licence, it may be worthwhile to conclude a “patent and know-how licence” in order for the licensor to grant access not only to its invention, but also to the technical know-how relevant thereto. This will enable the licensee to fully use and understand the invention.

Of course, licensing know-how will only make sense insofar as this know-how has been kept secret, i.e. that there is an economic value to it and a need for the licensee to gain access to that knowledge, which would otherwise not be known nor be readily accessible.

Licensing secret know-how can involve some risks linked to its potential, unwanted disclosure to third parties. For this reason, a patent and know-how licensing agreement should address questions of confidentiality and non-disclosure in a thorough manner, in order to define as precisely as possible the ways in which the licensee can use and further disclose the licensed know-how. The licensee, its staff and relevant third parties (such as possible subcontractors) should be given confidentiality obligations which are, in their scope and strength, at least as stringent as those put into place by the licensor to protect its trade secret.

Finally, special attention should be given to the duration of the intellectual property right being licensed, since the period of the licence cannot exceed the maximum duration of the right (e.g. 20 years for patents). In the case of a patent and know-how licence, this means that the parties should make a clear difference between the patent licence (which cannot last past the expiration of the patent) and the know-how licence (which the parties may wish to keep in force after the expiration of the patent).