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The principles of operation of permanent magnets are summarized, and their development is reviewed. The key figure of merit, the energy product, improved exponentially over much of the 20th century, doubling roughly every 12 years. Yet it has not improved significantly in the last 20 years. Constraints on further development are explained, together with the limits of 1/4 μ0/Ms2 on energy product and 2K1/μ0Ms on coercivity, where K1 is the uniaxial anisotropy constant and Ms is the spontaneous magnetization. The challenge of making rare-earth free magnets with a large energy product is discussed, as well as nanocomposite megajoule magnets and the development of new magnetically hard thin-films with perpendicular anisotropy which are potentially interesting for spin electronics or magnetic recording.