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A guide to patents

What are patents?

What is a patent?
A patent is a set of exclusive rights for an invention granted by Intellectual Property Offices in different jurisdictions. This can be a product or a process that provides a new way of doing something, or that offers a new technical solution to a problem.

What does a patent do?
A patent provides protection for the invention to the owner of the patent in the form of exclusive rights. The protection is granted for a limited period, generally 20 years.

Who owns the patent?
A patent belongs to the inventor unless they have given the rights or license to someone else. If the inventor is an employee and they make the invention as part of their work, the rights belong to the employer.

Why are patents beneficial?
Patents provide both incentives and protection to individuals by offering them recognition and the possibility of monetary rewards for their invention. Patents also promote innovation and the development of new products and ideas, rather than just‘re-inventing the wheel’.

What rights does a patent provide?
A patent protects the inventions so it cannot be commercially made, distributed, used or sold without the owner’s permission. The patent owner may give permission, or license the use of the invention to others under agreed terms. The owner also has the right to sell the invention. Once a patent expires the invention is no longer protected and the owner does not have exclusive rights to it.

Is there a limit on how long a patent is protected for?
Patent protection is granted for a limited period of time only. From the filing date of the application the life of a patent will generally be 20 years. In the case of a design patent the term is fourteen years from grant date.

How are patent rights enforced?
Once you have secured a patent you can legally stop others from making or distributing your invention. However the main responsibility lies with the patent owner to monitor and take action against any infringers. Patent rights are enforced by instruction of the owner and in most cases a court of law has the authority to stop any infringement.

Is a patent valid in every country?
A patent is a territorial right, which means that the exclusive rights are only applicable in the county, or region in which the patent has been filed and granted, in accordance with the law of that country or region.

Do I need a patent to use my invention?
No. Whether you have a patent or not, you are free to use your invention, but only if no one else already has patent rights to it. However, if you do not have a patent, you have no protection for your invention and it can be hard to stop other people from copying your idea.

What happens if I don’t patent my invention?
If you don’t patent your invention, others may take advantage of it. If the product is successful, others may make the same product without needing to gain your permission. The potential to license, sell or transfer your invention will be hindered if you don’t patent your invention. There is also the possibility that someone else may patent your invention first, giving them exclusive rights to the invention and preventing you from using it unless you pay them a license fee.

Why should I consider patenting my invention?
Patenting an invention gives the owner certain benefits over deciding not to seek protection. These benefits are:

1. A patent gives you exclusive rights to stop others from copying, manufacturing, selling or importing your invention without your permission.
2. You get protection for a set period of time, which stops competitors using it.
3. You can utilise the invention yourself.
4. You can license your patent to others to use it, or sell it.

What can and cannot be patented?
To be granted a patent, your invention must be:

• Something that can be made or used

• New

• Inventive: it can’t just be a modification of something that is already patented

You can’t patent the following:
• Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works

• A way of doing business, playing a game or thinking

• A method of medical treatment or diagnosis

• New types of plants, seeds or animals

• The way information is presented

• Some computer programs

What makes an invention patentable?
There are three major requirements for patentability. The invention must be: Novel, Useful and Not Obvious.

1. The invention must be new. Novelty is a vital requirement and a definite condition of patentability. An invention will not be novel if it has been disclosed in the public through any type of publication anywhere in the world.

2. The invention must be useful. The invention must be considered useful and have practical applications that can be demonstrated.

3. The invention must not be obvious. The invention must not, at the time it was made, be considered obvious by anyone in the field that the invention was created for.

What does it mean to license a patent?
A license is a written authorisation to use an invention. An inventor can authorise a manufacturer, marketing or distribution company to make and sell the invention in exchange for paying the inventor royalties.

A license may be exclusive to one manufacturer or non-exclusive with a number of manufacturers licensed to develop it. The license may last for the duration of the patent or for a shorter period of time. The territory of the license is usually limited to the jurisdictions in which the patent is protected.

Can I search for patents that have already been granted?
Yes. Patent searches can be carried out using the patent office databases. Patents can be searched for using the USPTO’s website, the UK IPO website, the EPO’s espacenet system or Google patents.

Copyright © Envoy International Limited. All rights reserved. Licensed under US Pat numbers 5895468, 6182078 and 6049801.