What is a patent?
You can use a patent to stop competitors from making, selling, using or importing something which works in the same way as your new idea. A patent can last for up to twenty years and can provide you with a significant commercial advantage over competing businesses. Patents are territorial – so only have an effect in the jurisdiction where they were granted.
Why should I try and get a patent?
There are some important commercial reasons why you should consider a patent application. Crucially, a patent can provide you with a monopoly to make, sell and import your invention, and can give you the right to exclude your competitors from doing those things. A patent can also increase the value of your business and help you gain investment.
Why should I perform a patent search during the design process?
It’s important to ensure that your design is not similar to other designs if you wish to patent it. A patent search is useful in increasing the likelihood that your idea doesn’t infringe anyone else’s patent – potentially saving the costs and time used to re-design it later.
How to obtain a patent?
To obtain a patent you need to file a patent application at the national Patent Office of the country in which you want to obtain the patent – in the UK this is the UK Intellectual Property Office. Your patent application needs to include a full description of how your invention works, drawings showing the invention, and a set of claims which define the scope of protection you want to obtain. The Patent Office will then examine the application, including carrying out a search to look for similar inventions.
If the Patent Office is satisfied that your invention is new and inventive (and meets other requirements, such as the invention being clearly described) it will grant you a patent.
Would my idea qualify for a patent?
To be granted a patent, the invention must satisfy the following requirements:
Be inventive – not an obvious modification to something that already exists
Be industrially applicable
Not fall in one of the exclusions (varies country to country – UK examples include a method of treatment by surgery, or a pure mathematical method.
How long will the patent be in force?
The lifetime of a patent lasts up to a maximum of 20 years from the date of filing. Renewal fees are due every year after grant. A patent can only be enforced once it has been granted, but can be licenced/assigned/sold while still an application.
How long will it take to obtain a patent?
Compared to registered designs, obtaining a patent is a slow process. The timescale is years rather than months. The graphic above gives a rough idea of a typical UK timescale. Other countries can vary quite significantly – the European Patent Office is notoriously slower. However, there are methods for accelerating the process if desired.
Important things to remember!
A patent can only be obtained for an invention which is new. This means that telling even one other person about your invention could jeopardise your chances of obtaining a patent. It is therefore extremely important to keep your invention completely secret until you have filed a patent application. If you do need to discuss your invention with others this can be done by keeping the discussions confidential.
A patent does not provide you with a right to use your invention – it is a right to stop others, not a right to use. If your invention makes use of someone else’s patented invention, they could potentially use their patent to stop you from using yours.
A patent protects how something works. If your invention relates to the appearance of a product, or to its branding, you might want to consider design, copyright or trade mark protection instead.