If you’ve got an idea for a design or invention and want to protect it from being stolen, securing a patent is a must. Provisional patents are perfect for those who are currently developing an idea and want to retain the legal rights to it. Considering their low costs, many people do opt to sign up for them.
There are many online channels that can be used to help you to determine whether your idea is truly original or not, and therefore whether it can be patented. Applying for a patent does not necessarily need to be as complex as you might expect: many young inventors have applied for provisional patents which have protected their inventions, and have also enabled them to get to grips with the basics of patenting – something that will be helpful in the long-term as their careers progress.
Making a patent application
Ideas and inventions have to be truly unique if they are to be granted patents. A vast number of inventors have secured backing from wealthy sources, and if your idea is a one-of-a-kind, there is always a chance that you will be able to benefit support from a backer. Below you’ll find detailed steps taking you through each part of the patent application process.
1. Preparing a patent specification
A patent specification is a document describing the invention for which a patent is sought and setting out the scope of the protection of the patent. To make your patent application successful, you would most definitely include detailed descriptions in the specification that are several pages long, a description of different versions of the invention and refer to drawings showing such versions. The style and content vary according to the market and subject matter.
For instance, complicated machinery, electronic equipment and chemical processes need many more pages of description and drawings than a straightforward item with few parts.
A patent specification should also include commercial claims. The claims identify the scope of the protection granted by the patent and describe the invention in legal and technical terms, clearly defining what will infringe the patent.
2. Request for grant of a patent
When your application is ready to go, you file it to the Intellectual Property Office. Whether you are applying for a UK, European or International patent this phase is a natural consequence.
3. Preliminary examination and search
Once your application has been received, a preliminary examination is carried out to ensure your application meets the formal legal requirements of the laws governing patents. The search is carried out in normally six months.
During this period, the examiner identifies those documents that will help she/he decide whether your invention is innovative. Such documents may have been published anywhere in the world and may include published patent applications and technical journals. The outcome of this search is a report which includes a list of all the documents eventually found, accompanied by a cover letter explaining the search.
If the application is successful, and any formal objections set out in the preliminary examination are overcome, it is published shortly after 18 months from your filing date. At this point, all correspondence between the Intellectual Property Office will be open to the public unless you have specifically asked to treat it in confidence.
This, however, can be done only in limited instances and strict terms which can be found on the Intellectual Property Office website. Or, if you feel there is information that should be kept private, don’t include it in any of your correspondence with the IPO.
The application will be published in an electronic version, and a notice will be placed in the Patents Journal on the UK website. As a result, your invention is now searchable, and anyone can comment whether the invention should be patented or not. If your patent is granted, your published application may put off someone from making a similar product or using a similar process.
5. Request a ‘substantive examination’ within 6 months from publication
A substantive examination is a process carried out to compare the detailed contents of a patent application against prior information to determine its patentability. The scope is to prevent your application to be terminated once it’s been published and is the second-to-last step to being granted a patent.
If your application meets all the requirements, you will receive a letter that explains when your patent will be granted. Usually, this won’t occur before three months, to give people a chance to make comments.
It’s at this point that the advantages of a well-drafted specification become clear. A good specification should provide a number of ways in which the examiner’s objections can be overcome. If you have a poorly drafted specification, it may be impossible to amend the specification to meet the requirements of the UK Patents Act.
6. Your patent is granted
If your application meets all the requirements of the Patents Act 1977 and Patents Rules 2007; the Intellectual Property Office will grant your patent, publish your application in its final form and send you a certificate.
A UK patent gives owner rights of an invention for up to 20 years – yet only if the patent is kept in force by paying renewal fees every year. If the fees are not paid, your patent rights will end.
The twenty-year patent protection period may be broken down into two periods, one of an initial five and another of fifteen to allow for better understanding on how patents are granted. Once you’ve applied for a patent, you or your company are provided with an exclusive license to work on a new invention for five years, starting from your date of filing the application.
After the completion of first five years, you will need to apply annually to renew the patent protection for the next fifteen years. Patent rights and protection provide complete monopoly over a market for a sufficient time for inventors to reap the benefits of their efforts to the maximum.
Advice on making a successful patent application
Preparing, researching and filing a patent by no means guarantees you will receive a patent for your invention, it can be a difficult and often complicated process, so here are a some key pieces of advice from the expert you help you file a successful application that ends up with you being granted a patent.
Making your application stand out
A patent application can be the first step on the road to global success, and new ideas are being patented all the time. However, patience is most certainly a virtue when it comes to standard patent applications. Before you start, make sure that the protection the patent offers your idea would prevent any copying in the markets you are active in. To avoid wasting time and money on existing technology, do a deep and accurate search on databases, sales brochures and the internet.
For example, espacenet.com is a free online database provided by the European Patent Office with access to more than 90 million patent documents worldwide, containing information about inventions and tech developments from 1836. For new investors, the website offers guidelines on how to search for patents. The waiting can pay off, and this will help you figure out if your idea is truly original.
Preparing for a patent application
One of the most common causes of patent revocation is a failure to invest enough time in making the initial application as strong as reasonably possible, at the start of the patenting process. All too often companies cut back on costs at the preparation stage only to find they spend far later on in defence of their patent.
It is common for similar, earlier inventions (referred to as prior art) to come to light and to be used to invalidate the asserted patent claims. Having a well-drafted patent application from the outset puts you in the best possible position to deal with issues that arise due to the discovery of these earlier prior art references.
Correctly researching a patent
One way to reduce the risk of prior art being discovered mid-way through the patenting process is to do some initial research. Pre-filing searches, although not comprehensive, can give you some idea of what others have done before and how new your invention really is.
The search results can be used to strengthen the validity of your initial patent application or identify potential problems that are likely to occur further down the line. If your budget does not allow for a thorough pre-application search, give your patent attorney as full a picture as possible of what led to the development of the invention, how it differs from the competition, and all the ways in which the invention will be exploited commercially. This will enable them to take these factors into account when drafting your patent application.
Carrying out regular intellectual property (IP) searches related to your business will enable you to keep an eye on your competitor activity by flagging up possible future problems relating to infringement. Regular research can have the added advantage of revealing potentially useful technology, such as patents which are no longer in force or are about to expire. A detailed knowledge of the emerging technology in your field will assist you in directing your research into innovations into virgin territory rather than into an already saturated market. It can also identify opportunities for co-operation with the owners of complementary technology.
Understanding patent variability
If patenting an invention internationally, be aware that significant differences exist within the execution of IP law around the globe. Some patents are inherently stronger than others in different jurisdictions. For example, patents relating to software or business processes are commonly granted in some jurisdictions and often considered to be excluded from patentability in others.
To ensure that you have the strongest possible patent portfolio, you will need to establish a considered international IP strategy, and invest in the subtle adaptation of international applications, by adapting the patent applications to complement the local variations of IP law to enhance the prospects of gaining the strongest possible protection under the sometimes conflicting laws of each respective country. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees with patenting and taking the above steps will not guarantee that your patent is not attacked. They will, however, reduce the risks to your business and put your patent portfolio on the strongest possible footing should you need to defend it.
Finding support from a patent solicitor (Lawyer)
The basis of a UK patent is a legal document called a ‘specification’. Its content decides not only whether a patent can be granted, but also exactly what the rights of any patent granted cov
Even if you’re not obliged to appoint a professional representative or a legal practitioner, it may be useful to consult one. Your chances of obtaining a useful patent are much greater if you use an IP professional. The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys can help you locate an attorney in your area. The Institute also offers free IP clinics in cities around the UK to provide basic advice to unrepresented innovators.
Is it worth getting a patent anymore?
All too often fledgling businesses invest in securing patent protection without fully understanding the role of a patent and the risks involved in attempting to obtain one. A patent does not give its owner the right to use an invention only the right to prevent a third party from using it without permission.
Due to a patent’s ability to exclude businesses from developing technology in a particular area, it is not surprising that competitors may try to revoke or amend your patent to remove any barriers it represents to their business. Strong competitors will not be intimidated by patents that stand in their way, and many patent owners do not realise that it is possible to have their patent revoked even after it has been granted.
For example, in the UK, prior to grant, a patent application can be objected to at the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) by examiners discovering a previous incarnation of the same or a similar invention. Even after a patent has been granted, it can still be challenged via revocation proceedings before the court or at the UKIPO. If a technology is valuable and forms a major part of your business, establishing a robust patent portfolio is vital, and all it takes is a little extra work up front.
However, the drive behind the development of the Patent system was to motivate an entrepreneurial and industrious attitude among individuals. Therefore, granting patent rights and protection by a government authority was done to assure individuals and companies of adequate security concerning their novel products and ideas.
If patent supports invention, it also empowers innovation. Considering the standard patent granting procedure also entails public access and publishing to all details regarding an invention or idea, the published info not only serves as food for thought to inspire further invention, rather it also may stimulate individuals to think about modifications to the specific invention.
Nowadays, businesses and companies treat intellectual property as a valuable asset and patent and intellectual property rights are considered to be more important than ever before for a business’ growth and progress. The increased involvement of industrial giants, especially from the technology sector in the litigation of patent rights and protection, is only expected to increase and expand further.
Subscribe for entrepreneurial & small business advice
Subscribe to our newsletter for advice and insights on starting, managing and growing a small business in the UK.
With the advancement of more interactive technological devices, product design and intellectual innovation have gained immense importance in the tech industry. Accordingly, it is no surprise that various businesses are now focused on availing patent rights and protection in a more pro-active manner, to have a stronghold of a specific market segment and a competitive edge over others.