What is a Patent?
A patent is granted by the government to an inventor to stop others from making, using or selling the invention without their permission.
When a patent is granted, the invention becomes the property of the inventor. This means it can be bought, sold, rented or hired just like any other form of property or asset. 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.
Patents and registered designs are very similar, but patents cover a new invention whilst a registered design focuses on the protection of the look of a product.
How does it work?
A patent stops others from using your inventions. Alternatively, you can choose to let others use it under agreed terms. A patent also gives you the right to take legal action against those who might be infringing (stealing or using your invention) and to claim damages if this happens.
If you have an invention, you don't have to get a patent to put it into practice, but once you release your invention into the public, there is nothing stopping people from copying it and by then you wouldn't be unable to obtain a patent. It is up to the owner to take any necessary action to ensure an idea is not infringed.
It is worth noting that you make sure your invention is commercially viable before paying for a patent. In this case, keep your ideas secret until you have something a bit more set-in-stone. You can gauge an idea of whether your innovation has a reasonable chance of success by carrying out a patent search.
What qualifies for a patent?
For an invention to be patentable, your invention must:
- Be new – This means it has never been made public in any way, anywhere in the world, before the date on which the application for a patent is filed.
- Involve an inventive step – If you compared it with what is already known, it wouldn't be recognisable to someone
- Be capable of industrial application – Your innovation must be some kind of device, product or process which can be used in a practical, industrial activity
Decorative designs can't be covered by a patent, but they may be entitled to design protection or copyright. Equally, discoveries, theories, and ways of thinking cannot be protected with a patent.
How long does it last?
For a new product, if you need to move quickly to capture the audience and make money, you can make an initial patent application – this gives you 12-months of breathing space. This application prevents anyone else from getting a patent that covers your invention, even if you never take the application further, it gives you 12 months of protection.
The strongest protection, however, is provided by obtaining a complete patent. Once the patent is granted you can prevent anyone else from manufacturing, importing or selling your patented product without your consent for 20 years.
If you are thinking about getting a patent, the process usually takes around two and a half years and you should approach the Intellectual Property Office to deal with your request.