A patent gives the inventor of a novel technical solution an exclusive right to the use of that invention. A patent can be valid for up to 20 years, and during this time no one else may produce, sell or import the invention without permission from the patent owner. Patents cover most subject areas, including for example biotechnology.
By searching thru patent databases and keeping yourself updated, you can avoid wasting time and money by duplicating previous research. Patents may be perceived as difficult to read, as an effect of the legal vocabulary used and an, often deliberate, obfuscation of the information. If there is a scientific journal article covering the patented invention available, you will probably find it much clearer than the corresponding patent. However, patents represent the largest single source of technical information in the world, and most of this information is not available as journal articles.