• patent is defined as, ‘A government authority or licence conferring a right or title for a set period, especially the sole right to exclude others from making, using or selling an invention’. The lifespan of a patent is twenty years from the initial submission.
  • An invention is ‘something, typically a process or device, that has been invented’.
  • An inventor is ‘someone who discovers a new method, form, device or other useful means that becomes known as an invention’.

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).

The Process

  1. In the first instance, you need to contact a reputable Patent Agency. If you don’t know of one, the starting point is to contact the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys, Alternatively, our Marketplace also has a selection of locally-based agencies.
  2. An initial meeting is usually FOC but, thereafter, the clock and fees start to roll! In the first instance, your attorney will give an opinion regarding the patentability of the invention. If this is positive, the next step will be to draft the patent application, which may take some weeks depending on the complexity of the submission. The cost of the initial process is difficult to estimate and it is good to get a quote from your agent. However, it is unlikely to cost less than £3,000.
  3. The patent application document will define the ‘inventive step’ in very precise and unambiguous language, such that there are no ‘loopholes’ that can be subsequently exploited by third parties.
  4. The patent application is then lodged at the intellectual Property Office, At this time, a ‘priority date’ is recorded, i.e. the date of the initial presentation of the application. 
  5. After submission, the Patent Office will undertake an investigation to establish whether there are any extant patents that might conflict. This will, typically take a year to complete.
  6. If there are no conflicts (‘interferences’) the patent is granted for the UK.

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!

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