Patents are now an integral part of global economy. The creation of the world trade system has also redefined the value of intellectual property protection and generated an unprecedented demand for patent protection that is no longer limited
to the traditionally patent-oriented economies of Europe, Japan and the USA.
Countries like China, India and Korea, and Singapore and Israel too, are just some of the new players heavily involved in patent-driven innovative competition.
Patents protect technical inventions. An invention can, for example, be a product, process or apparatus. Inventions are only patentable if they are novel, industrially applicable and involve an inventive step, but even then patent protection is not
granted automatically. The application must be accompanied by a full technical description of the invention, which the Office then examines for compliance with the European Patent Convention.
Patents give their owners the right to prevent others from using their invention, and are thus of major economic importance. They also help to recoup research costs, allowing the inventor to reinvest in research and development.
The publication requirement allows competitors to build on patented inventions and come up with even better technical solutions. In doing so, patents boost the innovation which Europe badly needs to keep up with other economies, and contribute to the further development of a knowledge society. The 56 million or so patent documents contained in the public EPO database constitute a vast trove of technical information.
The field of medical device, according to European Patent Office Annual Report of 2005, is one of the technical fields with the most filings.
This state of the art investigation, performed using the patent publications database, is focused on the field of diagnostic ultrasound, a field that thanks to its non ionizing nature and low cost is a very high growing area and a lot of scientific research is made.
Scope of this work is to provide an useful tool that allows to check the level of the ultrasound technology and to indicate the future direction of this technique.
Scope of this work is also to provide information to all the researchers and inventors who want to set out a patent procedure of an invention. As known, the patent procedure, from the filing day until the decision of granting the patent is quite expensive, this work could be used as a primary consultation tool before to present a patent application. All chapters of this work contains an introduction that explain the technical problematic of a field and in the subsequent sections the solutions are described.
In the first chapter of this work the European Patent Office and the world of patents is introduced. A special attention is revolted to several articles of the EPC (European Patent Convention) and to the classification system adopted by the EPO. Some statistics about European patent application filed in 2005 are illustrated and the difference between the first to invent system adopted by EPO (and by the majority of countries) and the first to invent system (adopted by U.S.A.) will be treated at the end of this chapter.
In the second chapter the basics of ultrasound are illustrated with particular attention to the physics principles that are at the base of ultrasound devices described in this state of the art investigation.
The state of the art is divided in 5 chapters, from 3 to 7, each chapter is about a specific technique. In the third chapter the ultrasound contrast agents are introduced and their main diagnostic application are disclosed.
The fourth chapter is about three dimensional imaging, this field is divided in 4 section: mechanical, free-hand, 2D arrays and catheters.
In the fifth chapter the technique of elastography and its application is described focusing on the stimulation protocols and methods.
The sixth chapter is directed to all the devices that allow to study the blood flow inside vessels and arteries and the seventh chapter treats about the ultrasound catheters and their characteristics. At the end of each chapter statistics about the trends in European patent application in the last 25 years will be illustrated.
In the conclusion of this work the future developments field of ultrasound technique will be illustrated.