Patents and how to obtain one

Patents are a form of intellectual property protection that cover inventions and are granted for a set period of time. Entrepreneurs and businesses looking to apply for a patent can do so through the Intellectual Property Office.

What is a patent?

Patents protect your inventions from being copied or exploited by a third party. They are a form of intellectual property protection, granted for a set period of time by the Intellectual Property Office. Patents do not cover intangible assets such as logos and brand, which can be protected using a trademark.

Should I apply for a patent?

If a patent is granted it gives you the exclusive right to prevent third parties making, using, importing or selling your invention without your express permission. This is essential if you wish to commercialise your invention and use it to generate revenue. Patents also allow you to license out your technology or invention and benefit from royalties, which can help improve the profitability of your business.

However, patents are very expensive and the process can often take two to three years to come to fruition. Additionally, there are disadvantages – the patenting process requires you to release some technical details about your invention, which may be better kept completely secret. Talking to a patent attorney may help you decide if applying for a patent is right for you.

Does my invention qualify for a patent?

To gain a patent, inventions must not have been public in any way before the patent application is made. All parties should be asked to sign non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). Patents will not be granted on inventions that show logical progression from an earlier design i.e. something that would not be obvious to an expert in your field. Finally, only inventions that are capable of being made or used in some kind of industrial process are granted patents. Other items can’t be patented but can be given other forms of intellectual property protection.

How to apply for a patent

You should first conduct a search to ensure no patent has already been granted for your invention. Patent applications can be made either via post or online through the Intellectual Property Office’s website. All applications must include a full description of your invention (including any associated drawings), a set of claims defining the invention, a short abstract summarising the invention’s technical features and a completed ‘form 1,’ which can be downloaded from the Intellectual Property Office website.

What happens next?

Once your application has been received, a receipt will be sent back to you within three days that confirms the date your application was received and a unique application number. After a period of approximately 18 months and barring any problems, the Intellectual Property Office will publish your application. You will then be charged a fee for a substantive examination by the IPO; if this is successful your application will be published again as a granted patent.

Where your patent applies

Patents are only enforceable in the countries in which they are granted. Those granted by the IPO will only be enforceable throughout the United Kingdom. You’ll need to apply for a patent in all countries in which you require protection, although international agreements often allow you to obtain protection throughout many territories with a single application.

Sources of further information

General advice is available via the Intellectual Property Office. For more personalised advice related to your own patent application, please liaise with a registered patent attorney. Contact the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) if you would like assistance finding a qualified professional.