What is a patent?

A patent is an intellectual property right granted by the government that gives the holder exclusive rights to the invention for a set period of time (20 years in the UK provided annual renewal fees are paid) preventing others from using, selling, importing or making it without the inventor’s permission.

Patents are generally taken out on new inventions that have the potential to be commercially successful. This enables the holder to either generate revenue by utilising the invention or by licensing others to use it.

Benefits of patents

Patents have an obvious benefit to the patent holder in that they offer them a monopoly over their invention. They are also thought to be beneficial to society as they reward innovation encouraging the ideas of other inventors. However patents can also hinder innovation if the monopoly granted to the inventor is to large and prevents others from pursuing ideas in related fields for fear of legal action being taken by the patent holder.

Can I patent my invention?

Patents cover inventions that contain new functional or technical aspects. Patents are concerned with how things work, how they are made or what they are made of. For an invention to be patentable it must be new and not a modification of what is already known.

Discovering whether your patent is new will involve significant research including searching through published patents. You can hire a patent attorney to do this for you to reduce the chance of your patent application being denied.

How to patent your invention

Patents in the UK are granted by the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). The process of patenting an invention is complicated and it is recommended that you use a Chartered Patent Attorney. When applying for a patent timing is crucial because if you apply to early there is a chance that the product is not fully developed whilst if you wait to long you run the risk of someone else coming up with the same invention.

According to the IPO the UK patent application process usually takes three to four years and consists of the following steps:

  • You prepare a ‘patent specification’ outlining your invention.
  • You file your ‘patent specification’ with the IPO together with Form 1 ‘Request for a Grant of a Patent.
  • The IPO responds issuing you a filing receipt confirming the date of your application.
  • You file form 9A requesting a search within 12 months of your application.
  • The IPO carries out a preliminary check of your application to check if your invention is new.
  • The IPO publishes your patent application over 18 months from your filing of the application.
  • No later than 6 months after being published you file Form 10 along with the necessary fee asking for ‘a substantive examination’.
  • Application is examined thoroughly and you are informed if anything needs to be amended.
  • If your application meets the requirements of the Patents Act 1977 your patent will be granted and your application will be published and you will receive a certificate.

Once your patent has been granted you are required to pay renewal fees to avoid your patent rights coming to an end. You should be aware that you are responsible for enforcing patent rights not the IPO. If you discover someone is breaching your patent rights you will be responsible for taking the appropriate legal action to enforce them.