Dropbox, Airbnb, Twitter – all these succesful companies have one thing in common: they became successful using the lean startup model. This method questions traditional business concepts and procedures, and instead promises greater flexibility and innovation. But what do lean startups mean for product development and company culture, and how can you benefit from these new ideas?
A patent is a protective right that protects your intellectual property. Unlike copyright, it does not protect artistic works, rather it protects inventions and ideas. When you apply for a patent, you prevent third parties from using your idea and from reproducing or exploiting your invention. You can grant licenses for a fee, meaning others can adapt your idea, but you still get paid for it.
Unfortunately, filing a patent application is often a lengthy process and a major financial challenge for many SMEs. Furthermore, patents are only valid in the country in which they are filed. However, the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT), originally started in 1970 and modified in 2001, aimed to simplify the process of filing patents in several countries. This guide will take you through the essential steps and warn you of the hurdles of a patent application.
- Requirements for filing a patent application
- UK and international patent applications - all in one place
- Applying for a patent: the costs
- How to patent an idea in the UK: the checklist for how to file a patent
Requirements for filing a patent application
If you are seeking to make a patent application, your invention must meet certain requirements. First of all, it needs to be a technical invention – not just something you have discovered. The UK Intellectual Property Office has certain requirements for a patent in order to grant one. These are as follows:
- The invention must be
- new. This means that is must have its own function and use on the market, and cannot be a copy of, or even closely resemble something else that is already on the market.
- The invention must be kept confidential. This
- means that your invention cannot be public knowledge before the patent is granted. This can be tricky, especially if you want to market the product, but in order for it to fulfil the requirement of being new, you cannot reveal it to the public.
- Protecting your patent idea. This is not a requirement, but a suggestion from the UK Intellectual Property Office. Seeing as it can take over a year for a patent to be granted, and you won’t want to simply put the invention on the backburner, you can take other measures to protect your brand, and still work for it, such as registering it as a trademark. This may be a better option than filing a patent for your idea.
- Analysing the financial potential of your invention. The cost of a patent is not insignificant, as will be explained later on in this article. It is therefore a good idea to have a realistic forecast of whether your idea will make a profit when patented. An excellent guide for more information on this aspect of how to patent an idea in the UK is the UK Intellectual Property Office’s patent guide.
In our article “The Patent: Protect Your Valuable Ideas” you can learn more about the intellectual property rights of a patent, strategic patent management and how you can encourage innovation in your company.
UK and international patent applications - all in one place
Case study: Edith Weyde and Andre Rott, of Germany and Great Britain respectively, both developed and patented a modern process to produce photocopies using silver salt diffusion for the first time in 1941. Was this legally acceptable? As mentioned at the beginning, a patent is only valid in the area where you apply for it. This practice is based on the principle of territoriality. If your invention is patented in the USA, someone with a similar innovation in Iceland, for example, could still make money with it. This is not unusual, because companies are constantly researching in the technical field and investing large sums in development. Technology and the research surrounding it changes daily - and so similar ideas can emerge independently of each other at the same time.
Instead of investing in their own research, some companies copy existing inventions that aren’t patented in the company’s country. Sometimes these companies even patent this product and exclude the actual inventors from that national market. If the necessary financial resources are available, it can therefore be worthwhile applying for cross-border patents in order to prevent product piracy.
Individual Patent Applications
If you would like to register your patent in different countries separately, be sure to inform yourself about the registration requirements of the respective countries. As a rule, you will always need a translation of all your documents into the official language of the respective country, although this may not be the case for English. Each time it will cost you for the application, evaluation and admission of the patent, and the fees vary in each country. The annual fees must be paid in the local currency. Otherwise, there is a risk that the patent will expire.
Global Patent Prosecution Highway
The Global Patent Prosecution Highway (GPPH) is a multilateral project designed to improve the exchange of information between patent offices. If you apply for a patent in one country, you can expect the same requirements from the others, if they are part of GPPH. If the invention has already been examined in one of the countries involved and the patent has been permitted, you can file your patent application in any member state using the available information of the first application. Whether or not this patent is then granted in the member country is another matter, but at least some administrative effort can be saved!
The project aims to make it easier for inventors to protect their intellectual property and to promote innovation by making application procedures simpler and more efficient. The GPPH application is free of charge.
The National Intellectual Property Office of China (CNIPA) is not a participant in the global project, but may have particular regulations with other territories.
Applying for a Patent across Europe
The European Patent Office has its headquarters in Munich, Germany. Its official filing languages are English, German and French. If you apply for a patent at the European Patent Office, you can select the countries where you want to apply – this will be your first step. By paying the patent fee in the respective countries, you confirm where your application should be made to. If the respective national patent law allows it, the EPO allows your application to be made in a single language - either via the Patent Office in one of the contracting states, in one of the official branches of the European Patent Office or via an online form.
A European patent does not automatically cover all EU states. Each patent evaluation service will grant or reject a patent. This applies to individual EU member states, i.e. those which you selected when filing the application. The patent is equivalent to a locally filed patent once it has been published in the European Patent Specification.
The Patent Cooperation Treaty: WIPO
The World Intellectual Property Organization (aka WIPO) makes it possible to make an international application for 152 member states at once. The Patent Cooperation Treaty works in two phases: international and national. In the international phase, the international authority examines the invention for the criteria listed above. You have to kick off the national phase yourself. In this case, you’ll need a translation of your application into the official language of the countries you’re filing in. Regulations and fees also depend on the country of application. National patent applications must be received within 30 months.
Applying for a patent: the costs
The cost of a patent varies hugely. First, you need to consider how many patents you’re filing for. Each one will cost something, and each one will require maintenance whilst you’re making the application. There are several different fees and forms, which all have charges up to around £600, an overview of which can be found at the fees and forms downloadables page at the UK IPO’s gov.uk page. Generally speaking, however, you will be able to make your application for around £230-280.
However, these administrative costs are not the only thing that you need to factor in. The cost of filing the application costs from £3,000 to £5,000 in a usual case when you hire a patent attorney, but if you want to file an international patent, you’ll have to cough up another £4,000. Filing a patent in the US is particularly pricey – adding around £4,000-10,000 to your expected costs. Some people may be happy to just make a patent application in the UK, but international markets are often where greater profits are to be made.
Another consideration is legal fees – and not those which are aiming to get your patent registered. If you end up in a legal dispute, this can quickly rack up a bill into the six-figure bracket, and so doing research and keeping your idea confidential is really of vital importance, as well as ensuring you’re not infringing on someone else’s patent.
There may be potential scholarships for you and your patent application, but this depends not only on where you live and where you’re filing for your patent, but also factors such as patent category. It is worth investing time into researching these possibilities, because they may help you down the line.
What can influence the cost of a patent?
Not all patents are the same, and for good reason. Lots of important factors determine how much you have to pay for your patent application. Take a look at the following:
- The type of patent. This is the part that affects costs the most, so a simple invention such as a coat hanger will cost less than advanced technological inventions such as brain imaging machines.
- Who is applying for the patent? An individual will generally pay less than a business, and businesses will pay varying amounts too. It makes sense that small businesses have to pay more than an individual, but less than a big business.
- The level of technology. Similar in determining the type of patent, the level of technology will also play a role in the price. An invention which is highly technological, requiring lots of research will be more expensive than something which is simpler, and didn’t need as much research put in.
- How many applications and where? As mentioned before, making several applications in several countries incurs more costs, not only because of the patent fees, but also because of admin fees such as translating your documents.
How to patent an idea in the UK: the checklist for how to file a patent
A patent application is a time-consuming and often costly procedure. Making mistakes in the application forms or missing a deadline puts you at risk of your application being rejected. The following checklist is helpful as a summary of the most important points for filing a patent.
First and foremost, you have to make sure that your invention meets the patent criteria. Depending on which country you are filing in, this might be a little different, not only because different products exist in different markets! Make sure your patent is new and confidential. This can be hard if you’re excited about your invention or want to market it right away, but it is a crucial step to remember!
The next step is deciding whether you want to apply for the patent all on your own, or getting help from a patent attorney. It is not a requirement to get help from an attorney in the UK or Europe, but if you are filing for a patent in the US from overseas, it is now a requirement to enlist a patent attorney, which is why US applications are more costly. However, because patent applications can get complicated quickly, and because you’ll sometimes have to use particular wording in order for your application to be approved, it is a good idea for anyone filing a patent to get expert help.
Another thing you’ll need to do before you can make your patent application is to make sure your financial base is covered. How are you financing your invention? How are you financing the patent? These are really important elements of your product planning, because people may be curious to know about this in the future, let alone attorneys and those part of the path to your patent application. Ways of financing your patent include scholarships, grants, investors, and savings. Be clear on how you want to do this, as attorneys in particular may need to know this for your application.
Application in the UK
It can’t be stressed enough that research and confidentiality are the cornerstones of a successful patent application. Do internet searches, look through the database of published patents, and check trade booklets and catalogues. If you feel that this is overwhelming, or that you are too busy, don’t skip this step, and pay an IP attorney to do the research for you.
Confidentiality is perhaps one of the most difficult requirements to keep. After all, you’re most likely working on your idea with a team of people, even if the idea was yours alone. Manufacturers, investors, co-workers; all these people need to be in agreement that the idea cannot be public knowledge. The IPO suggest drawing up confidentiality agreements, to ensure that your idea doesn’t get put into the public realm unwittingly. Attorneys will always be confidential, it is more investors and invention promotion firms that you have to be diligent with – although these can often be the best help if and when your patent is granted!
Part of a patent application is actually also deciding whether a patent is really the best thing for your invention on the market. Filing a patent is expensive and technically challenging; getting the help of an IP advisor is strongly recommended by the IPO. This may save you going through the administrative hassle, and financial burden that is patenting a product, particularly as a small business. A good IP advisor will tell you whether they think that filing a patent application is a good idea, particularly in your case for your invention. If not, they should recommend an alternative course of action to protect your idea.
Patent Application in the UK
If you decide to file a patent, you can choose whether to get the help of an IP advisor, or file it yourself. An IP advisor will do the application for you, whereas if you choose to do it yourself you will have to spend a lot of time filling out the right forms. Your patent application needs to include information on:
- What your invention is: You need to include a written description of what your invention is, meaning that other people understand how it works and how it can be made.
- What your invention looks like: Include drawings in your application in order to illustrate the written description in your application.
- Claims: You need to define what your invention is in clear, short sentences that form a legal description of what your invention is and does on a technical level.
Finally, your application needs to include an abstract, which is like a summary, outlining everything that you have mentioned in your application, so those who are reviewing it get a good overview. Particularly because of the specific wording needed in your application, it is not recommended to file a patent without a professional advisor.
Search, First Publication, Privacy and Examination
Once your patent application form has been filled out, and any other patent applications have been made abroad, you or your IP advisor will receive a receipt of application. Around a year and a half after this point, your patent application will be published by IPO, as long as all the requirements have been met. During this year and a half period, your IP advisor will request a search within the first 12 months of filing the application. This prompts the IPO to examine your application against published patents, in order to make sure that the patent fulfils the requirements of being a novel invention, which has not been patented before. In order for this to happen, your IP advisor must have paid the application fees.
An important thing to note at this stage is personal privacy. Your invention will be registered under an address, and if you file an application without an IP advisor, your address will be on this register. To avoid this, and maintain your personal privacy, it is worth using a PO Box, for example, where you can be reached, that isn’t your home address.
Once your patent has been examined, you will be informed whether it has been granted or not. Once granted, your application will be published in its final form, and you will receive a certificate of confirmation. Each year you will have to pay to renew the patent.
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