You are working in a specific area where you have expertise and have identified something that you believe is novel, e.g. a process, a device, a material, a substance, an application. Your web searches have not identified anything that matches your ‘invention’. So, how do you go about protecting your invention? The answer is to seek patent protection, but how do you do that?
The Patent Attorney’s role
Writing a patent is an exact science and not to be entrusted to the amateur. Patent attorneys are highly trained specialists who know what ideas are patentable, how to formulate the document that defines the ‘inventive step’ (the patent) and how to process a new patent application. However, their role extends beyond the submission of initial patent applications. They are also responsible for advising the client on how the patent can be extended beyond their homeland into the global marketplace and what can be done in the event of an infringement (see later).
It is important to understand that the priority date is essential to the patent process; this must relate to the date that the patent application was lodged. Any information describing the invention that has entered the public domain before that date jeopardises the priority date and may be classified as an ‘interference’ during the examination process. This could include, demonstrations at an exhibition or conference, academic posters, an article in a journal, an academic paper.
Rest of the World
Your initial patent will only be valid in the UK. You and your attorney must decide which countries require cover, e.g. EU (there is a trans-EU mechanism for this), USA, Japan, Row etc. As applications roll out to each country where you require cover, you will need to allocate funds to cover the application and processes beyond.
One potential source of revenue for the inventor is to enact licences with third parties. These must be set out in formal Licence Agreements, where the fees and royalty payments are defined, as well as the tenure and geographical limits of the licence.
If you become aware that someone is using your invention without your permission and have no Licence Agreement in place, you can instigate litigation, through your attorneys.
Example: When James Dyson was a young engineer he patented a novel vacuum cleaning technology and started a small engineering company in the UK. The giant American company, Hoover, liked his idea and incorporated it into a new range of products, without permission and having no Licence Agreement. Their legal experts took the view that, as a small company, Dyson would not take on the might of corporate America. They were wrong: he sued them for patent infringement and won BIG TIME! Ironically Hoover bank-rolled the establishment of the Dyson empire!