Patents are a type of intellectual property designed to protect innovation and drive economic growth. Businesses operating in industries such as pharmaceuticals and tech spend vast sums of money on inventing new products and processes and often turn to patents as a way to protect their investment. Obtaining patent protection is a long and arduous process. It is crucial to seek patent legal advice to give your application the best chance of success and ensure that the protection sought accurately reflects your needs.
What Can A Patent Protect?
A patent can protect any invention that satisfies the relevant registrability criteria. Generally speaking, an invention can be any product or process unless it is expressly excluded by law. Examples of excluded inventions include those relating to medical methods such as surgery and therapy, although other medical inventions such as drugs, vaccines and medical instruments qualify for patent protection.
To obtain a patent, your invention must be new, inventive and have industrial applicability.
To satisfy the first requirement, that it is ‘new’, an invention must not have been made public before the date of your application. Crucially, this includes any disclosures made by the inventor themselves. It is, therefore, vital to take patent legal advice before discussing your invention with any third party to ensure you do not inadvertently defeat your patent application.
The second requirement necessitates an ‘inventive step’. The invention for which protection is sought must represent more than a trivial improvement in the existing body of knowledge. The requirement is intended to avoid patents being inadvertently granted in respect of products or processes which are the obvious next step in the current technology or method.
The final requirement – that the invention has industrial applicability – is the least arduous of the three, and most inventions will satisfy it. If the invention can be made and used in the relevant industry, it will have the requisite ‘industrial applicability’.
What Level Of Protection Does A Patent Give?
A patent gives its owner a monopoly right. If you own a patent, you have the sole right to use it during the period of protection, to the exclusion of all others. Any third party using your patent may be liable for infringement. In such cases, several legal remedies are available to you, including forcing the third party to immediately cease their unauthorised use and pay damages.
UK patents last for an initial period of five years. A patent can be renewed to a maximum term of 20 years.
How Are Patents Obtained?
In the UK, patents are granted by the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO). To commence the process, you must lodge an application and the appropriate fee with the IPO. The IPO will heavily scrutinise your application to confirm that your invention qualifies for patent protection. It will undertake a number of searches of material from around the world to check that there are no prior inventions which invalidate your claims of novelty and produce reports based on its findings. It will also publish your application, at which point it will be available for any third party to view. The IPO may raise queries regarding your patent, which you must answer within set time periods and which may necessitate amendments to the application.
If the IPO is satisfied that your invention qualifies for patent protection, it will proceed to grant the patent, publish it and issue you with a certificate. The process is notoriously complicated and sometimes laborious, often taking many years to complete.
Why Is It Important To Take Patent Legal Advice?
Patent applications are highly technical documents. They must include a comprehensive description of your invention along with drawings where relevant. Those working in the relevant field should be able to understand your invention from reading the description included in your application, so it needs to be very carefully drafted.
The patent application is also the document through which you set out the scope of the protection required. If your application proceeds to registration, it will form the basis of the protection granted by the IPO. Therefore, it is vital to ensure that the level of protection sought accurately reflects your needs.
Expert patent legal advice will ensure that your patent application has the best possible chance of being approved by the IPO. You should, however, seek patent legal advice before you reach the application stage, as soon as you begin considering an invention for which you might require protection. Patent solicitors will advise on the likelihood of obtaining patent protection for your invention and undertake the relevant searches to confirm that your invention satisfies the registrability criteria and does not infringe any third-party rights. The appropriate patent legal advice will also ensure your position is safeguarded if you wish to disclose details of your invention to any third party before making your patent application.
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