- You may also be looking for the "real world" point of view article on design patents.
A patent is an official documentation assigning the proprietary rights of an object or idea to the creator or owner of that that object or idea. Generally, these individuals receive royalties for the use or sale of their patents.
After Captain James T. Kirk returned from Rigel XII after successfully acquiring the much-needed lithium from the miners, Doctor Leonard McCoy jokingly asked him if he had considered working in the patent medicine business, as he must have given "quite a talk down there". (TOS: "Mudd's Women")
Following Harry Mudd's departure from Rigel XII, he, in his own words "organized a technical information service bringing modern industrial techniques to backward planets, making available certain valuable patents to struggling young civilizations throughout the galaxy." He felt that as a "defender of the free-enterprise system, he did not need to pay royalties to the patent holders of what he was selling, claiming that "knowledge... should be free to all." His crime: sale to the Denebians of all the rights to a Vulcan fuel synthesizer.
Following the capture of Mudd and the USS Enterprise by the androids of the planet Mudd, Mudd jokingly told Spock that he "may be a wonderful science officer, but [he] couldn't sell fake patents to [his own] mother." Spock, not understanding the logic in Mudd's statement, replied, "I fail to understand why I should care to induce my mother to purchase falsified patents." (TOS: "I, Mudd")