Protecting your patent

The Intellectual Property Office gives the lowdown on how to get a patent and protect it

Your new inventions can be worth a great deal if you safeguard them properly. Protecting your intellectual property (IP) assets is of paramount importance in everyday business if you wish to deter others from copying your new technology. Lawrence Smith-Higgins from the IPO explains what inventors need to know to protect their invention.

What is a patent?

When it comes to novel products and processes, patent protection is what is required. You do not have to apply for a patent to protect your product or processes; you could rely on keeping the information confidential. But without a patent you would lack the right to stop others from making, selling or importing the product or process you have developed. A patent grants you the right to prevent anyone from making, using, selling or importing your invention for up to 20 years.

What can be patented?

To be worthy of patent protection an invention must have a practical application, not be obvious when compared with existing products or processes, must be novel and not specifically excluded from patent protection.

What are the benefits of patenting an invention?

In addition to giving you the exclusive rights to a new product or process, a patent, once granted, could be licensed to other firms. Licensing patents can leads to broader distribution, and hence market acceptance, of your technology.

How can you check whether your invention is novel?

A very common error is to become so single-minded about your own invention that you neglect to find out at the earliest possible moment what has been done before. It is intensely annoying (as well as expensive) to become aware after months of effort and investment that the protection sought is not allowable because the projected innovation has in fact been done before. Inventors are advised to do a patent search

What is the key?

  • Is your technology new? Do a patent search.
  • If you make a public disclosure of your invention before filing, your application will fail.
  • Are you looking for new technology? Do a patent search.
  • Is your new technology worth patenting? Consider costs/revenue.
  • Don’t forget licensing.
  • A UK patent will only give protection within the UK. If you trade outside the UK you should consider international protection.
  • You will need professional advice.
  • Patents could be just part of your IP strategy. You may also need to consider trade mark, design, or copyright protection.

Application process:

To apply for a patent you must fill in the application form, including a full description of your invention, any drawings and your invention claim and abstract.  The form must be sent to the IPO, who will then return a receipt confirming it has been received.  A request for a search and fee sheet must be sent within 12 months of your filing date.

You should always be careful who you tell about your invention, and how much you reveal, before it has been patented, because it may render it invalid.  If you want to discuss your invention, you can talk to registered lawyers, solicitors and patent attorneys because anything you show them is legally privileged and so confidential.

Where to get help

For advice and events about protecting your inventions and conducting patent searches see these websites:

The Intellectual Property Office website, www.ipo.gov.uk

Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, www.cipa.org.uk

Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys, www.itma.org.uk

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