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Patents - a simple guide

Patents protect the features and processes that make things work. This enables inventors or designers to profit from their inventions. A Patent for an invention is granted by government to the inventor, giving the inventor the right to stop others, for a limited period, from making, using or selling the invention without their permission.

When a Patent is granted the invention becomes the property of the inventor, which like any other form of property or business asset can be bought, sold, rented or hired. Patents are territorial rights: a UK Patent will only give the holder rights in the UK and rights to stop others from importing the patented products into the UK.

A Patent protects new inventions and covers how things work, what they do, how they do it, what they are made of and how they are made. Your invention must:

  • Be new;
  • Be capable of being made or used in some kind of industry;
  • Have an inventive step that is not obvious to someone with knowledge and experience in the subject.

The Benefit of Patent Protection

Importantly, a Patent will give you, the owner, the Intellectual Property Right (IPR) to prevent others from copying, making, manufacturing, importing, selling or using the invention without permission.

Fundamentally, the existence of your Patent enables you to:

  • Sell the invention and all the IPR;
  • License the invention to someone else but retain all the IPR;
  • Discuss the invention with others in order to set up a business based around the invention;
  • Prevent others from trying to steal and/or exploit your invention; if it doesn’t then it gives you the ammunition (the right) to take legal action to stop them exploiting your invention;
  • Claim damages if your Patent is exploited.

If you do not Patent your invention then be aware that anyone can use, make or sell your invention without your permission. You may be able to protect your invention by attempting to keep it a secret but this will only be possible if it would be difficult to copy the process, construction or formulation from your product itself.

Applying for a Patent 

The terminology in relation to applying for a Patent is usually ‘filing a Patent’. Before you make your application, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does your product meet the requirements for protection: i.e. new, inventive step and not be of an excluded type?
  • Who is the true legal owner of your invention? i.e. the Patent applicant may be you (the individual) or a corporate body; individuals or corporate bodies can make joint applications.
  • Have you asked for any advice about your proposed potential Patent?  For example, you can get confidential advice regarding your application from Patent attorneys, solicitors, or the UKIPO.
  • Do you need Patent protection outside the UK? Just like a Trade Mark a UK Patent is a national territorial right that only gives protection in the UK. You may consider checking out the alternatives if you are thinking of protection abroad.
  • Finally, have you thought of other forms of protection? There may be others that are more suitable for your invention, instead of, or in addition to, Patent protection.

The process

If you decide to go ahead and file for a Patent then you need to do the following:

  • Fill in a particular form and send it to the UKIPO by post or directly online. Accompanying the form your application for a Patent should include a full description of your invention, including any drawings, a set of claims defining your invention and a short abstract summarising the technical features of your invention.
  • Send your request for search and fee sheet with your application. If you decide not to do this along with the filing fee (first step) the UKIPO will inform you of the date by which you must send it to them to ensure your application continues. This will be no later than 12 months from your filing date.
  • If you are not the inventor, there is more than 1 inventor or you are applying on behalf of a company, you must also send a statement of inventorship.

What happens after I’ve applied?

After you apply the UKIPO will:

  • Check your application against published Patents and documents to check your invention is new and inventive;
  • If your application meets the requirements, the UKIPO publish it just after 18 months from your filing or priority date. They also make many documents on the open part of the file for the Patent available to the public including by putting them on the UKIPO website;
  • Your name and address will appear on the front page of the published application. Upon publication these details will also appear in the UKIPO records and in the UKIPO online Patents Journal, both of which are available to the public on the UKIPO website and can be permanently searched using most standard search engines. If you do not want your home address published you can provide a different address to the UKIPO where you can be contacted, for example a PO Box or business address;
  • Carry out a security check;
  • Tell you what you need to do and when. For example, the UKIPO will examine your application and tell you if it meets the legal requirements. If it does not they will tell you what you need to do and how long you have to do it. This can continue, for up to 4½ years from your filing or priority date;
  • Send you a receipt with your application number and filing date - this will be the date the UKIPO received your application;
  • When your application meets the legal requirements, the UKIPO will grant your Patent, publish it in its final form and send you a certificate.
Remember, you must:
  • Send the UKIPO your claims, abstract, application fee and search fee within 12 months of your filing date;
  • You must request a search within 12 months of your filing date;
  • You must request substantive examination within 6 months of publication.

How long does it take to grant a Patent?

A typical Patent application takes 3 to 4 years to grant, however there are various methods of accelerating the examination procedure therefore we recommend you view the UKIPO website to find out what and how. 

Be aware: there is generally a time limit of 4½ years from the application's earliest date wherein you must meet requirements within the given time limits, or your application may be terminated. However, you can extend some of the time limits.

How long does registration last?

If you have been granted a Patent, you must renew it every year after the 5th year for up to 20 years protection.

How much does it cost?

The application fee is £30 for a paper based filing (£20 if filed online). This is in relation to the preliminary examination of an application and is NOT a filing fee. The normal amount the UKIPO charges to process a UK Patent application is £230 - £280.

Paper filing:

  • £30 (application fee) for a preliminary examination
  • £150 for a search
  • £100 for a substantive examination

Electronic filing/web-filing service:

  • £20 (application fee) for a preliminary examination
  • £130 for a search
  • £80 for a substantive examination

Be aware – the UKIPO will not refund the fees for any reason.

What next?

Patent law is highly complex along with all the requirements which go along with the process.

If you think you need some help with your invention and Patent matter, the best advice is to do your research – check out the UKIPO website. It’s also worth asking a friend, colleague or family member, for a personal recommendation of a good Patent attorney, Patent solicitor or Patent lawyer.

The reality is that most of us would benefit from popping into see somebody who is legally qualified to listen to our unique circumstances, at least for an initial chat. If nothing else, it’ll give you peace of mind and determine how best to progress with things.  

DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. This article is merely a general comment on the relevant topic.

Published on 25th January 2013
(Last updated 28th March 2018)

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