A patent is a type of intellectual property which protects inventions. Patents are of significant importance to many industries, particularly those in the tech sector, which spend millions of pounds developing new technology. Patent solicitors are highly skilled professionals, often with a background in science and technology. Patent solicitors specialise in advising clients from all sectors on obtaining patent protection for their inventions and subsequently managing and enforcing their patents.
What is a patent?
A patent is a monopoly right over an invention, which can be a product or process. It gives its owner the right to use the patented product or process to the exclusion of all others. If a third party uses your patent without consent, they may be liable for patent infringement. Remedies for patent infringement include the payment of damages, delivery up of any infringing products and an injunction preventing further infringement.
As well as playing a vital role in protecting your inventions, patents can create a valuable revenue stream through commercialisation. Patents can be commercialised in the same way as tangible property by being sold, assigned or licensed for example.
In the UK, patent protection lasts for an initial period of 5 years but can be renewed to a maximum of 20 years.
What can a patent protect?
In order to be patented, an invention must –
- Be new – the invention must not have been made public before you apply for a patent. Clearly, it must not have been used by a third party in the past. Perhaps more importantly, this means that your application may fail if you have disclosed details of the invention to anyone else before you apply for a patent;
- Be inventive – the product or process must not have been obvious to a skilled person before the date on which you apply for your patent; and
- Have industrial applicability – this is rarely an issue since it does not pertain to the merits of an invention. The requirement is merely that the invention is capable of being made and used in industry.
Well-known inventions which have benefitted from patent protection include Google’s Pagerank, the iPhone and a 3d printer.
Some inventions are entirely excluded from being able to seek patent protection even if they fulfil the above criteria. Examples of excluded subject matter include mathematical methods, purely aesthetic creations (which are the realm of copyright) and certain computer programmes.
How do you protect a patent?
Obtaining a patent is a long and complicated process. In the UK, patent applications are made to the UK Intellectual Property Office (the IPO). As part of the application, you must include a detailed description of the patent, known as a ‘specification’, together with drawings if relevant. The specification must be drafted in such a way as to enable those with knowledge of the relevant field to understand your invention. It must also detail the scope of the monopoly applied for. Known as ‘claims’, this aspect of the application is crucial since the claims essentially define the extent of the protection awarded. Patent applications are highly technical, and it is vital to seek the help of patent solicitors when drafting one, to give your application the best chance of success and ensure the protection awarded is as wide as possible.
Around 18 months after you have made your application, the IPO will publish details of it in full. This does not mean that the patent has been granted; merely that it has been applied for. At this stage, anyone can view your patent application. The IPO will carry out a detailed search for inventions similar to yours around the world and provide a search report. This report will highlight earlier patents and anything else they have located in material, such as scientific reports, which may impact your application. This process can take a number of years.
If the IPO considers that your application fulfils the patentability criteria, your patent will be granted, and a certificate issued. If the IPO has concerns regarding the novelty or any other aspect of the application, they will contact you in writing. You then have a period of time within which to respond to those concerns and convince the IPO that your patent is valid. This may warrant changes to the specification. If you can persuade the IPO of the viability of your application, they will proceed to grant the patent.
What do patent solicitors do?
Patents are a complex, technical area of law, and it is vital to enlist the help of an experienced patent solicitor in the UK when obtaining, managing and enforcing your patent portfolio. Patents are territorial rights, granting protection only in the territory which grants it. It is possible to seek protection across several countries using specific types of applications. A UK patent solicitor will advise you on the process involved in obtaining UK protection and any other applications which may be relevant to the territories in which you intend to use the patent. Patent solicitors will advise on the registrability of a specific invention and carry out infringement checks to ensure it does not infringe any earlier rights and fulfils registrability criteria. A UK patent solicitor will draft an effective specification to accompany your application to give your application the best chance of success. A patent solicitor will manage your patent portfolio, ensuring all registrations are up to date and renewed as required. They will pursue any third parties who infringe your patents and defend you in the event you are accused of infringement.
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