How get a patent for your business

If you’ve got a fantastic invention, you’re probably wondering how you can patent it before anyone else does – or you’re wondering if you need to. Here’s the information you need about keeping your invention legally yours.

What is a patent?

A patent is a form of legal protection to prevent an invention that you have come up with being stolen or reproduced. When this protection is applied to intellectual property such as a book or a piece of music, it’s called copyright instead.

You can only patent an invention – not an idea. So if you’re forever crying while chopping onions but then struck upon the idea of wearing goggles whilst cooking, you won’t be able to just go out and patent the idea of this  – but you could patent “No More Tears Super Goggly Protector”, a specific invention with a clear purpose that you’d thought about, researched, and created a blueprint or model for. Basically, to patent an invention you need to prove that you’ve taken an idea, thought about how it would work, and taken the next step of working towards its creation, even if you don’t have a flawless prototype yet (or even any prototype – the main thing you need is a blueprint and descriptions – but more about this in a bit).

You also can’t patent military technology, or any invention that could be a threat to national security.

Should you patent your idea?

While it’s understandable that you want to patent your idea as soon as possible, patenting should be one of the final steps in your idea process. It’s more important that there’s a market for your product – patenting is a long, laborious and expensive process, so you don’t want to come out the other end with a patented product that nobody actually wants.

A good reason to patent is if your invention is a significant improvement in technology – for example, there are lots of vacuum cleaners, but only Dyson has the patented innovative technology that makes their machines market leaders.

It’s also worth considering the realistic risk of others copying your invention – or how much it will matter if they do.  And in some industries, technology moves so quickly that by the time your patent is approved, it might be obsolete anyway.

How to apply for a patent

  • Search for other similar patents to check that yours is original. It’s important that you check for other patents similar to yours. You can run a search here to discover if any exist already or have been filed.
  • Prepare your application. There are four parts you need to include in your patent application:
  1. A description of your invention that explains to others how it works, and how you could make it
  2. Drawings that illustrate this description
  3. Claims – legal statements that clearly explain which of the technical features of your invention are to be protected
  4. An abstract – a summary of the technical portions of your invention. It’s possible to submit your claims and abstracts after filing the description and drawings once your patent is pending, but it’s best to submit everything at the same time. Information about how to produce each part of the application can be found here.
  • File your application and request a search. Once your application is ready, you can file it by post or online. However at the same time you can apply for a search and substantive examination, which will up the costs. These two processes are necessary, but you can pay when you file your application or wait a few months – 12 months from filing for the search, and 6 months filing from the substantive examination. Although you have already searched for other patents, this search will make double sure that your invention has not already been filed or patented, and will also evaluate independently whether your invention is inventive enough to be patented. This is why it’s so crucial that you do your market research and establish that your product is a game-changer before starting the patent application process. You’ll receive the results of the search usually within 6 months.
  • Patent publication. Once you’ve passed the search and everything is up to scratch, your patent will go forward to be published. It usually takes about 18 months from the date of filing. Once your patent is published, the substantive examination will investigate whether your invention is good enough to patent and, once more, check it’s sufficiently new and inventive.
  • What next? When your patent is published, it will be available in the Online Patent Journal, which includes your address. It will also be in IPO records. You must pay a yearly fee to keep your patent valid. Once approved you can use your patent to make your invention, sell the rights on, subcontract the manufacturing and make money from the sale of the finished product, or license the patent rights in return for loyalty payments.

Can I get help to apply?

Using a patent attorney or solicitor if you’re unsure about how to go about preparing your application can be expensive, but might save you money in the long run – and give your patent more chance of being approved.

If you choose this route, ensure you go through the Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys in order to ensure that you're working with an accredited patent agent.

How much does a patent cost?

The UK fee to file a patent, including the search and substantive examination, costs between £230 and £280, depending on whether you do it online or by post. If using a patent agent, expect to pay a minimum of about £800, and up to several thousand.

After four years, you'll have to start paying a yearly renewal fee. These start off at around a quarter of the application fee, and rise gradually until the 20th year, when the patent expires.

How long does it take?

The average time for a patent application to be completed is about two and a half years; however it can be fast-tracked in special cases (more information here), which can cut the time to less than a year in some cases.

Useful things to know

  • It’s important that you keep your invention under wraps until you apply. If you make it public you may not be able to patent it, or it could make your patent invalid. If you need to share your invention – eg through talking to potential manufacturers or stockists – make sure that you use a non-disclosure agreement.
  • If your patent is infringed, it’s your responsibility to enforce the patent.

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