A question we get asked a lot by our clients: do I need to patent my idea? What is a patent and can I protect my design without one?
While a patent does grant you a significant level of protection, it’s not the only option open to you. We sat down with Tim Blower, a patent and trade mark attorney from www.ip-active.com to discuss all things patents and design registrations.
What is a patent?
A patent is a form of legalised monopoly, which the government gives to an inventor for a limited period of time. In return, the inventor discloses publicly how the invention works. A patent document is a dual purpose document, in that it contains the public disclosure of how the invention works in the form of a description and drawings, and a definition of the scope of the monopoly granted in the form of the claims.
What does a patent cover and how does it work?
A patent grants you an exclusive legal right for an invention, which prevents anyone else from using the invention in any format without your permission during the term of the patent. As a piece of intellectual property a patent can be sold, mortgaged, inherited and licensed. Licensing patents can yield a substantial source of revenue. Patents can last for 20 years from filing.
How do you get a patent?
An application must be filed at an intellectual property office. The application includes a description, drawings, claims and details of the applicant and inventor. The application will then undergo a search and examination process which occurs in a number of stages over several years. You can accelerate the process but many applicants are happy for the process to be spread out as this spreads out the cost.
How do I know whether I will be granted a patent?
To be granted a patent your idea must fulfil two main criteria:
It must be new (also referred to as novelty)
It must involve an inventive step (not an obvious progression of what is already known)
The idea must also be capable of industrial application, in other words, your idea must be practical.
Importantly, the idea must not have been publicly disclosed before the earliest filing date of your patent application, even by you. This could count against you and invalidate your patent application. It’s important to remember this when discussing your idea, ensuring all discussions are confidential.
How do you know whether your idea is new?
Doing some research around the topic of your new idea is a great way to start. You can do your own searching online - try Google Patents and Espacenet - and if things look clear you might then wish to have a professional do a search for you, or go straight to having a patent application prepared. It’s a good idea to take professional advice at this stage.
What is a design registration?
A design registration is a relatively cheap and quick way to protect the appearance of a product, but bear in mind, the protection is specific to that particular product appearance and will not protect how the product works. Products, packaging, graphic symbols and typefaces can all be design registered. Design registrations can last for up to 25 years.
How do you register a design?
An application just comprises photographs or drawings – plain line drawings are preferred. It is important to realise that any shading, colouring or text is deemed to be part of the design, so some thought might need to be given as to how the design is presented. To be validly registered, a design must be new, but in the UK and EU, the application can be filed up to one year from first public disclosure. The design should not be offensive and should not include protected emblems or flags. Usefully, one application can cover a number of separate variants of the design.
Keep your idea confidential;
Understand the different forms of IP protection available – patents for ideas and to protect the way things work, design registration to protect specific product appearance;
Do some free online searching of patent databases to see whether your idea is patentable;
Take professional advice from a patent attorney at an early stage.
At Centreline, we always recommend our clients obtain a design registration where possible, as for a relatively low cost this offers a great deal of protection surrounding the look and form of your design. However as discussed above this does not offer the same protection as a patent. Hopefully our discussion with Tim Blower - www.ip-active.com has outlined the key differences and helps you make a more informed decision on how best to protect your design/ idea. If you’d like to discuss this with us in greater detail, we’re always happy to have a confidential meeting with you. You can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0203 1764190 asking to speak to Neil.