Patents

Frequently asked questions ​​​​


Click to expandWhat is a patent?

A patent is a legal monopoly granted by the state which allows the owner exclusive rights to a particular invention for a limited period of time. The owner can use it to prevent others from exploiting the invention or alternatively the owner can allow others to use the invention in return for a licence fee.​

Click to expandAre all things patentable?

No. Patents protect products, processes or apparatus which are new and have some functional aspect. Patents do not protect ideas or creative works and they do not protect the name or logo given to a product nor a product’s outward or aesthetic appearance – simply its functionality.

Click to expandCan I tell anyone about my invention?

Any public disclosure before a patent application is filed could prevent the application from being granted. Such disclosures can include publication or advertisement, a public demonstration or word of mouth. Disclosing information about the invention in confidence won’t affect a patent application but only if this confidence is respected. The use of a formal confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement is one way of trying to ensure this.

Click to expandWhat are trade secrets?

Processes, systems or details of products may be protected by keeping them secret, rather than applying for patent protection. To do so it is important to ensure that as few people as possible are aware of the information and that those who are aware of it sign a confidentiality or non-disclosure agreement.

Click to expandIs it always a good idea to apply for a patent on a new product?

Not necessarily. Patenting can involve significant costs and you need to be confident that you can cover this cost in sales. It can also take some time for a patent to be granted so if the market for the product is likely to be short-lived it may not be worthwhile. As part of the patenting process details of your invention will be made public so it is important to consider whether your best interests are served by applying for a patent or trying to keep the information secret. This, of course, may be difficult once the product itself is made public.

Click to expandWhat criteria must an invention fulfil in order to have a patent granted?

The main criteria for patentability are that an invention must be:-

New (often referred to as “novel”) – not known or made public anywhere in the world before the application for the patent is filed. A product does not have to be on the market to be known.

Inventive – it must not be simply a slight or obvious variation on a known product or process.

Capable of being used in industry – “industry” is taken in a very broad sense. It excludes such things as theories, discoveries, works of art and may exclude such things as methods of doing business and sometimes software.

Click to expandHow do I know if my invention is new?

A new patent application will be examined for all of the above criteria. However as this process can be a very lengthy one it is advisable to carry out some initial searching yourself. Business & IP Centre staff can advise you on how to get the best out of the available patent databases.

Click to expandWhat does a patent application involve?

When you apply for a patent you file a detailed description of how the invention works, often with diagrams and an indication of all the features which you are claiming to be new. This forms the basis of a legal document or specification.

Click to expandCan anyone help me to draw up this specification?

A registered patent attorney who is a member of the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys is qualified to do this. They will charge their own professional fees in addition to those which you need to pay to the UK Intellectual Property Office.

Click to expandDo I have to send photographs or a prototype with my application?

No. Patent protection is based on the text and diagrams of the patent specification.

Click to expandHow long does a patent last?

The first renewal for a granted patent comes on the 4th anniversary of the filing date. After that it must be renewed annually. A patent can last for a maximum of 20 years.

Click to expandDoes a UK patent protect me abroad?

No. You must file applications in the countries in which you want protection within a year of filing your UK application. If you wish to file in a number of countries it may be more cost-effective to file a European (EP) or international (PCT) patent application which can cover several countries with one application.

Click to expandIs there any free advice available?

Business & IP Centre staff will be happy to answer any queries you may have. We also run regular free patent clinics in conjunction with CIPA (The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys) where you can discuss your ideas in confidence with an attorney.