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Introduction to Patents

What can be protected in a Patent?

Typically a patentable invention consists of a product, an apparatus, a system and/or a method of manufacture or use. The patentable invention must be technological in nature, that is to say it must have technical features and cannot merely consist of an abstract concept.

There are also a number of specific types of invention that are excluded from patentability, these include methods of doing business or playing a game, methods of medical treatment, and aesthetic inventions including the presentation of information. If you think your invention may fall within one of these areas, we would be happy to discuss this with you to see if there is some aspect of your invention that is patentable, or whether you may be able to obtain another form of protection such as a Registered Design.

In order to obtain a granted patent, your invention must be considered to be novel (new) and to involve an inventive step (not be obvious) over what has be done before (prior art). To assess this, the Patent Office carries out a prior art search and examines your patent application in light of the results of this search, to determine if the patent should be granted.

Why should I get a patent?

A granted patent gives the owner a legal right to stop someone else using his invention without his permission. This means you can stop your competitors copying your ideas and products while the patent is in force. A patent can last up to 20 years from the filing date.  In addition a patent, or even a patent application, can give your business a commercial edge and provide a useful asset for the company. This advantage could be in the form of:

  • Owning a property right that can be sold or licensed;
  • Being able to put ‘patent pending’ or similar information on your products, to deter competition; and/or
  • Providing a means to reduce your tax rate. (See our Patent Box section)

How do I protect my invention all over the world?

Unfortunately there is no such thing as a worldwide patent. Patent protection must be obtained on a country by country basis, although there are some systems in existence that can make this process a little easier.

In general we would recommend, for UK based inventors and SMEs, that you initially file a UK patent application. This is a cost effective process as the official fees payable to the UK Patent Office are low compared to other national patent offices, and the UK Patent Office is able to provide a prior art search within 4-6 months after filing the application.

If you wish to obtain patent protection in other countries around the world it is possible to file applications in these countries within 12 months of the filing date of your UK patent application. If this is done, these foreign applications can be ‘backdated’ to the filing date of your UK application (this is known as claming priority). If you know that you want to obtain protection in a number of European countries, or a number of countries around the world, it may be sensible to consider applying for a European Patent, or filing an International Patent Application.