History is full of examples of innovative ideas being co-opted, copied or stolen. Everything from the board game Monopoly and the telephone to Jack Daniel's and, of course, Facebook. Each of these inventions and designs had their initial concepts come from the minds of others before their supposed creators called them their own.
Today, ensuring your idea stays your own is far easier than it used to be. When you have that 'eureka' moment, it's important to keep your creation under lock and key by way of a patent. We've already talked about how you can protect your business' intellectual property, but here we'll go into what you need to know about patents, including what they cover and how you can go about applying for them.
A patent is a government license granted to the inventor that gives the inventor the right to stop others - for a limited period - from making, using, or selling the invention or idea without permission.
Once granted, patent permission means the invention becomes the property of the inventor. Therefore, it can be bought, sold or rented like any other kind of property. Patents are territorial rights: UK patents will only give the holder rights in the UK and rights to stop others from importing the patented products into the UK.
In order to be patentable, your invention must:
An invention is not patentable if it is any of the following:
If, however, the invention involves more than just these abstract aspects, and has physical features (such as special apparatus to play a new game) then it may be patentable. Additionally, it is not possible to get a patent for a plant variety, a method of diagnosis, or a method of treatment for human or animal surgery.
When you've decided that a patent is right for your business idea, you should find yourself a patent attorney or advisor. They'll be able to help you prepare your application properly (since you can't add in additional information later), give you a better chance of your patent being granted, and help you make your patent as commercially viable as possible.
If you work with a patent attorney, they'll be able to guide you through the process, which we'll go into more detail below. The average cost of employing a patent attorney is between £3,000 and £4,000, but may be less if the invention is a relatively simple one. Your initial application protects your invention for a year, and although protection can be extended, it becomes more expensive, especially for international patents.
Once you've decided to apply, you'll need to fill out an application. A patent application is made up of four parts that need to meet specific criteria. You must include:
You should also include any drawings you need to illustrate your description. In addition, you can also supply academic papers to help further describe your invention.
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In some circumstances, you also need to complete a statement of inventorship if you're not the inventor, there's more than one inventor and they aren't listed as an applicant, or you're applying on behalf of a company. This provides the Intellectual Property Officer with the right information on who the inventor is and why you have the right to apply for a patent.
The Intellectual Property Office searches for documents showing inventions similar to yours and then issues a search report that lists any relevant documents from around the world that they've found in reference books, scientific journals or other patents. This search is an indication of how likely you are to obtain a patent.
Eighteen months after the patent application was initially filed, it is automatically published and available for others to be viewed. However, this is not a granted patent and you cannot sue anyone for using your invention at this point.
Within six months of the publication, you must pay a further fee and request examination. Over the course of the examination, the Intellectual Property Office may write to you with reasons as to why your invention isn't new or is obvious. You'll have a window of time to respond to their reasoning, persuading them that the invention is worthy of a patent. This involves changing the description of the invention or the claims before an agreement is reached, which can take time.
When the Intellectual Property Office is satisfied that your invention ticks all the boxes, your patent will be granted, with a copy published in the Intellectual Property Office's Official Journal, along with a certificate confirming the patent.
From the date of application, it usually takes about four years to obtain a patent. However, early fee payment and prompt response to any communication from the Intellectual Property Office, you can cut this to 18 months, providing your invention is relatively straightforward.
Also, keep in mind that once your patent has been granted, annual renewal fees must be paid in order to enforce the patent. As the patent gets older, these fees will increase.
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