FAQ - Patents

Q. What is a Patent?

A patent is a legal right which gives the patent owner the option to sue, in Court, a party who uses (including manufacturing and selling) the patented invention without authorisation. If the Court action is successful, the patent owner may be granted, for example, damages and/or a Court Order requiring the other party to stop using the invention. Owning a patent does not necessarily mean that you are free to use your invention. Use could infringe intellectual property rights owned by others.

Q. How do I obtain a patent?

A patent is obtained by applying to the patent office in the country (or region) of interest. In most countries, the application procedure includes an examination and a patent will not be granted if the Examiner considers that the invention is already known or just an obvious extension of something that is already known.

Q. How long does it take to obtain a patent?

This varies from country to country, but in general it may take two or more years. In the United Kingdom, the procedure may take anything from a year (or less) to over four years. At least in the U.K., you can control the length of the process to some extent.

Q. How much does it cost to obtain a patent?

This varies from country to country and from case to case. It is also affected by the route via which patent protection is pursued. In general, the process of obtaining a patent in the UK may cost anything from about £2,000 to about £5,000 (plus VAT where payable), over the course of the application procedure. We can give you more precise cost estimates based on your requirements.

Q. In which countries should I apply for patents?

This will depend on how you plan to commercialise your invention and may be limited by the amount you are prepared to spend. If you plan to manufacture and sell a product yourself, it is generally good practice to pursue patent protection in the countries in which you plan to sell the product, the country in which you will manufacture, and potentially also countries in which competitors are likely to manufacture competing products. There are ways in which the decision regarding the countries in which protection is to be sought, and the expense of applying for patents in foreign countries, may be delayed.

Q. How is ownership of inventions determined?

There is some variation from country to country. For inventions made in the United Kingdom, the inventor is generally the first owner of the invention, unless the invention was made in the course of the duties of the inventor as an employee, in which case the invention may be owned by the employer, as opposed to the inventor. If you would like advice about ownership, please let us know. As part of the procedure for applying for a patent, it is necessary to identify the inventor(s) and if the application for a patent is being made by a party other than the inventor(s) it is necessary to indicate how the applicant has obtained ownership of the invention.

Q. Should I keep my invention confidential?

Yes, you should keep all details of your invention confidential until a patent application has been filed. Even after filing you should be careful about what information is revealed and it can be advantageous to keep the invention confidential for at least 12 months from the filing of your patent application. We would be happy to advise further on this point on request. In some circumstances, details of an invention may be divulged to a third party before filing a patent application if the party is bound by a confidentiality agreement. We can advise about this.

Q. Should a Search be Conducted Before Filing a Patent Application?

It is possible to conduct a search before filing a patent application and we can arrange this for you if you wish. If a search is conducted, this may show that the invention is already known, in which case you will save the cost of applying for a patent. If a search demonstrates that something similar but not identical is already known, this may help us to direct a patent application to the novel aspects of your invention. However, the cost of searching and analysing the results of a search can itself be significant. Also no search can be guaranteed to find all relevant earlier publications and so even if no relevant earlier publications are found in a search, this does not necessarily mean that your invention is new and non-obvious. Searching can also be performed to give an indication of whether you are free to use your invention without infringing patents owned by others. If you would like advice about this, please let us know.

Q. What happens after grant?

If you are granted a patent, the maximum duration of the patent is generally 20 years from the filing date although you will need to pay fees periodically to the patent office to keep the patent in force. In most countries, the fees are payable each year.

Q. What do I do if I receive a letter accusing me of infringing someone’s patent?

Don’t panic but act as soon as you receive the letter. We suggest that you contact us so that we can advise you how to proceed. As part of this process, we may review the patent that is allegedly infringed and the product about which the complaint was made to assess whether or not your product does actually infringe the patent.