A land patent gives a person or company the right to title or interest in a piece of land. It is not the document that actually passes title to the land but is the original document stating that title can be passed. In other words, a land patent is the government's acquiescence that the land can be purchased without interference from the government.
Land patents might grant the right to absolute title to the property or might grant only an interest in the land. For instance, a land patent might give the owner of the land the right to use to the land, sell the land and improve the land but might reserve the rights to any gold, silver or other metals or minerals of value to the government that issued the patent. A land patent not only grants the right to title to the original applicant or purchaser but the rights run to the grantee's heirs and assigns at law.
Although known by different names, land patents have been around for centuries in one form or another. Often, when one country was defeated by another country in battle, a treaty was signed granting the victor the spoils of the victory — namely land, in most cases. As part of the transfer of land, the king, queen or ruler of the defeated country would grant land patents to the victors, giving them the right to title to the land.
In the United States, land typically can be traced back to a transfer from a previous government or other nation, such as Spain, the United Kingdom, France, Mexico, Russia or a Native American tribe. Technically, many of the original land patents granting rights to the United States from the United Kingdom are still in force. After the U.S. Constitution was ratified, the U.S. began to issue its own land patents through the General Land Office.