We are talking about intellectual property protection. Copyrights, patents, designs and trademarks are different types of intellectual property protection, each pertains to a different type of intellectual property, for example design rights are for the shape of objects.
Some of these types of intellectual property protection you get automatically, whereas some you have to apply for.
When it comes to protecting your invention or product, we are talking about patents.
However, before you steam ahead and try to patent your new idea, it’s first worth understanding what you can and can’t patent. It’s also worth noting that a patent will typically cost around £4,000 and it will take around 5 years for the patent to be granted.
What can you patent?
According to the UK government’s website, to patent something it must meet all the following criteria:
- It must be something that can be made or used
- It must be new
- It must be inventive – not a simple modification to a thing that already exists.
Things you cannot patent
- literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works
- a way of doing business, playing a game or thinking
- a method of medical treatment or diagnosis
- a discovery, scientific theory or mathematical method
- the way information is presented
- some computer programs or mobile apps
- ‘essentially biological’ processes like crossing-breeding plants, and plant or animal varieties
Is a Patent Right for You?
Due to the high cost and lengthy application process, you might want to ask yourself, is a patent right for your product?
If you have decided that a patent is indeed what you need, to stop other companies legally producing a product identical to yours, you will need to apply for a patent.
However, you can only apply for patents on inventions which are new to the market. With this in mind, it is recommended that the first thing you do before applying for your patent is to search for existing patents.
Even if you are applying for a national patent, the British Library recommend conducting an international search for existing patents. This is because if an idea has previously been patented, at any time, in any country, it cannot be re-patented.
You can search for patents yourself using various websites, such as Espacnet, or you can visit local patent libraries where qualified staff will be able to help you, or you may want to hire a patent attorney to do the job for you.
Applying for a Patent
Applications for patents can be made by post or online and all the details about applying for a patent can be found here.
You may decide to work with a patent attorney which would make things easier for you, but a little more expensive.
Once you have applied for your patent you can mark it as ‘patent pending’.
If your patent is granted you will be sent a certificate and your application will be published. You will then be responsible for renewing your patent (on the fourth anniversary of when you filed for the patent, and subsequently each year by the due date). It will also be your responsibility to defend your patent.
If your patent is granted after that four year anniversary of application, you must file for renewal three months after the date of granting.
It is ultimately your decision whether or not to apply for a patent to protect your product. It is highly advisable that you seek professional advice for further guidance. It is a lengthy process and it does cost a considerable sum of money, and you will be responsible for defending your product. However, if you have invented a product which you believe will change the world, it may be worth pursuing, if you have invented the next fidget spinner, it may not be worth it as people may have stopped buying them before your patent is even approved!
For more guidance on turning your idea into a product, download our complete guide, From Idea to Product.