What's the difference between the inventor, the applicant and the owner in a patent?

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The inventor is the creator of the invention. In the EU this term is defined by each member state’s legislation. In general, in order for one to be considered an inventor, it is acknowledged that a certain level of contribution to the development of the creative elements of an invention (technical creativity) must be met. Inventors are always private individuals and are always entitled to be designated on the patent, regardless of who files the application. Joint inventors or co-inventors exist when a patentable invention is the result of the inventive work of more than one inventor, even if they did not contribute in equal parts.

According to the European Patent Convention (EPC), of which all EU member states are signatories, in principle the inventor, or his successor, has the right to the patent. In practice, whoever applies for a patent is presumed to be the inventor, so the inventor and the applicant usually coincide. In many jurisdictions, however, the applicant will not necessarily be the inventor – for instance in cases where the ownership of the invention has been contractually assigned to another entity –  even if the inventor will always keep the right to be mentioned as such in the application. This greatly depends on national law, although the EPC regulates the question in broad terms.  In particular, in several countries there are laws on employees’ inventions and on inventions made at universities (professors’ privilege) that may establish a special regime. For example, it is very common that in the context of an employment relationship, rights in inventions created by employees are assigned to the employer by the employment contract or considered as belonging to the employer by law. In that case, the applicant (i.e. the future owner of the patent) is not the inventor.

Finally, ownership recognises a proprietary right to the invention that will in principle vest in the applicant after the patent is granted. As a proprietary property right, the ownership of a patent can be transferred.