What is a patent?
For the possibilities to protect an invention.
A patent is a monopoly right granted by the State to an inventor.
Technically, a patent is an item of property which can be bought, sold, rented or hired.
What rights are granted by patent?
A patent gives the inventor the right to prevent others from making, using or selling the invention without his or her permission.
A patent does not give the inventor the right to make, use or sell the invention himself. This is because the inventor's ability to do these things may be subject to the patent rights of others.
Where do patents apply?
Patents are territorial in nature. A UK patent will only give its owner rights within the United Kingdom. This includes the right to stop others from importing products into the UK which infringe the owner's patent. If you want patent protection in other countries there is an international scheme in place that makes it easy to apply for protection in other countries.
How long does a patent last?
A patent has a life of up to 20 years. However, due to the pace of technological change, most patents are maintained (that is, renewed) for only 7 - 10 years.
What can be covered by a patent?
Patents may be obtained on products or processes. They are intended to protect the way things work, what they do, how they do it, what they are made of or how they are made. More information is given on our patent pages.
What cannot be covered by a patent?
- Scientific theories or mathematical methods.
- Aesthetic creations such as literary, dramatic or artistic works.
- Schemes or methods for performing a mental act, doing business or playing a game. The presentation of information, or computer programs which do not perform any technical effect or function.
- New animal or plant varieties.
- Methods of treatment of the human or animal body by surgery or therapy. Methods of medical diagnosis.
- Perpetual motion machines or other "inventions" which operate contrary to established physical laws.
What criteria are used in granting a patent?
In most countries the main criteria are that the invention is new and that it involves an inventive step.
In many countries novelty is judged on a world-wide basis, that is to say, the invention must never have been made public in any way, anywhere in the world, before the date on which the application for the patent is filed.
What is an "inventive step?"
This can be difficult to judge. An invention must involve something more than just a trivial difference over what is already known. A red bicycle is novel over a green bicycle but clearly lacks inventive step. However, a blue squash ball was held to be potentially inventive over a black squash ball. The invention lay in the appreciation that the flight of a blue squash ball could be more easily perceived than that of a black one.
How long does it take to get a patent?
The process of obtaining a patent can take from three to five years and sometimes longer.
If it takes 3-5 years to obtain a patent, won't this hold everything up?
No. Once a patent application has been filed at the British Patent Office, you get "patent pending" status, so that it is possible to talk about the invention to others, or sell products incorporating the invention, without jeopardising the possibility of obtaining a valid patent, and without the risk of someone else stealing the patent.
How do I apply for a patent?
You need to prepare a Patent Specification, containing:
A detailed description, with drawings, of at least one version or embodiment of the invention.
A series of statements, which define the overall scope of the invention, thus providing protection for variations which are not specifically described in the document. These statements form the basis on which the patent application will be searched and examined by the Patent Office.
What happens after my patent application is lodged?
Once the Patent Specification has been lodged at the Patent Office, you have one year in which to develop the invention further and/or to explore commercial possibilities with manufacturing partners or licensees, before you need to incur any further costs.
When can I file an International or PCT application?
Towards the end of the year, you can file an International or PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) application. This gives you protection, in principle in a number of countries for up to 18 months.
Alternatively, you may proceed with your application just in this country.
How much does it cost to obtain patents?
It depends on the invention, and the countries in which you decide to pursue your application.
What are the ongoing costs of patents?
Patents need to be kept in force throughout their lifetime by the payment of renewal or maintenance fees, normally on an annual basis.