Considerations when patenting an invention

Last updated: December 2020 | 5 min read

To guarantee absolute protection of your idea, it is crucial to obtain a patent, which prevents any form of violation – such as altering, remaking, selling, or importing your copyright without your approval. A patent is viable for 20 years.

Can I patent my invention?

In order to patent your invention, the intellectual property within it must be entirely new and original.

It must take the form of a concrete (non-abstract) object or a procedure that can be profitably applied in commercial and industrial activities. Although they may be granted copyright, thoughts, theories, information, programmes, and decorative designs do not fall under this category.

Whether the intellectual property is public knowledge is important.

If the product that contains the IP has already been publicly launched, or is already reasonably public knoweldge (for the audience that is intended to use it), it can no longer be patented. As a consequence, it is essential that you protect knowledge of your IP becoming public, through use of confidentiality agreements that enforce non-disclosure.

How do I protect an idea?

If you are buying or acquiring intellectual property with a view to patenting it, you should impose your own rights and terms in case a grant is not made. Alternatively, you might use an option agreement to buy only when a grant has been given.

When working on a new process, you should keep in mind that someone else may have had the same idea independently, and that there may already be an application for a similar patent being processed. Keeping your work secretive until it is ready for an application is ideal. However, nothing can guarantee that someone else might submit a similar idea sooner.

Because the application of the intellectual property is important, you might choose to restrict your application to a niche market to reduce the scope of competition.

You could also submit an inceptive patent application. This gives you a year-round intermission and protects your invention, deterring anyone else from submitting an application even if you do not engage in the full patent process.

Is patenting an idea worth it?

The consideration is whether your invention is commercially applicable, i.e. whether it can be sold for sufficient profit given the cost of applying for a patent, and the probability of not being granted one.

Should I use a patent search?

Before even conducting a patent search, it is preferable to consult an advisor. He or she will tell you about the possible consequences of patenting and help you make sure that your invention is original. Since millions of innovations have already been patented in the UK, it is not unlikely that your idea has already been patented.

A patent search is a useful process to follow. Not only should it tell you whether your innovation has already been patented, but it can also help identify if it could be patentable and whether or not any other existent patents could endanger it.

The Intellectual Property Office (the 'trading name' of the Patent Office, known in shorthand as the IPO) carries out the initial patent application. By documenting an assessment deciding whether or not your invention is new, the IPO’s report allows you to make an informed decisions as to whether to change your product or retreat from the application.

There may be circumstances where you may want to conduct a patent search to prevent any violation of others’ patents, even though you don’t intend yourself to apply for a patent. Patent searches can be useful as a research tool to learn about your competitors’ applications and their products.

Is using a patent agent necessary?

As mismanaged applications restrict the scope of any patent you are granted and can prevent you from obtaining one, it is highly recommended to use a patent agent.

He or she helps you in outlining the patent designations and in the application process. Reputable patent agents should be members of Chartered Institute of Patent Agents (CIPA).

The Institute provides a member list and runs free clinics, and many agents offer a free initial consultation.

In case you are uncertain if your invention is worth a patent, you are allowed to deliver an initial non-agent application. If you are unsuccessful, the form can later be ‘rescued’, but the process is not immune to risks. A full UK application process generally costs from £4,000. Complex technologies are more costly to patent. Costs can be reduced by providing your agent with a detailed description – effectively doing some of the work for your agent.

How long does the process take?

The full patent process generally takes two and a half years. A fast-tracked application could take as little as one year. The moment you submit the initial application, you are adequately protected against any violation, and you are given a year to decide whether or not to maintain the application.

What are the stages of a patent application?

A patent application comprises of five stages:

  1. Initial application, which requires a small fee to be paid to the IPO
  2. Preliminary search within 12 months. On the successful processing of this request, you receive a search report.
  3. Publication of the patent application within 18 months from filing.
  4. Full examination within six months of the application.
  5. You are granted a full patent that you can maintain for up to 20 years from the initial filing date. Starting from the fourth year after that date, you must to pay renewal fees.

If you want to start patenting your invention, you can find the updated forms and fees here.

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