5 most frequently asked questions about patents
We answer five key patent questions.
If you have ever considered obtaining patent protection for an invention, you may have been led to believe that the process of getting a patent to grant is a difficult one. This can naturally be off-putting for many. Whilst the patenting process may seem complex, if you have a good idea that could really benefit from patent protection, it would be a shame to abandon all thoughts of applying for this reason alone. Here we present 5 reasons why the journey of obtaining patent protection may not be as difficult as you think.
The process of obtaining patent protection in the UK is quite well-structured and consists of 8 basic steps:
This stage is simply to check that your invention does not already exist and that you are eligible to apply for a valid patent.
The patent application comprises an abstract, a description of your invention (often with drawings), and claims to which features of your invention you are seeking protection for.
Your patent application can then be filed at the UKIPO and an official prior art search requested.
The UKIPO will then search for prior publications that describe inventions related to yours and prepare a search report listing relevant documents. This can be a very useful indication of your chances of getting a patent granted.
The UKIPO will publish your application 18 months after you file it. At this point everybody can see what you consider to be your invention.
Within 6 months of your application being published, you must request substantive examination from the UKIPO.
The substantive examination will assess whether the UKIPO considers your invention to be patentable and you will be given chances to respond to objections raised in the report and convince them that your invention deserves a patent. This is the final major hurdle!
Assuming you have successfully convinced the UKIPO that your invention is patentable, you will be granted your UK patent. On the other hand, it is possible that the UKIPO will refuse to grant a patent if it maintains that your invention is not patentable.
“Novelty” is the first criterion that your invention will be judged on to determine if it is patentable. To be novel, your invention must include one or more technical features that have not been previously made available to the public.
In practice, claiming novelty for your invention may be easier than you think.
Firstly, any earlier published technology, otherwise known as “prior art”, must be identical to your invention for it to destroy novelty. Even very minor differences between your invention and the previously disclosed technology will be enough for your invention to be considered novel.
To destroy the novelty of your invention, the earlier invention must also be enabling, meaning that it should have been disclosed in such a way that it would enable a person skilled in the field of the invention to work the invention without having to guess how to implement it, or to invent something themselves, to cover any gaps.
Any patentable invention must also involve an “inventive step”, meaning that the invention should not be an obvious modification of the closest existing technology or combination of technologies to an uninventive but technically capable reader.
It is easy to fall into the trap of hindsight when assessing whether your invention is an obvious modification of earlier similar technologies, but there are normally reasonable arguments why your invention should be considered inventive when looking objectively at the prior art and what it teaches.
We see many inventors fall into the trap of thinking that since they thought of their idea in response to a particular problem, and they thought it was a natural solution to the problem, then everybody else must think the same – when in fact this is very often an improper hindsight analysis of the invention.
Obtaining patent protection abroad may appear to be very complex, with different countries having differing processes.
On the other hand, most countries now follow a similar process to the UK process detailed above and differences generally occur in relation to how novelty and inventive step are determined, and in timescales and deadlines.
In addition, there are ways of simplifying filing of patent applications abroad, which reduce costs and procedural steps, including filing a single European patent application (rather than individual European country applications) and even filing an “international” patent application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (though, alas, eventually this must be split into individual countries at a later date).
Despite everything you have read above, there are, of course, hurdles to overcome when trying to obtain a granted patent, which is where we come in. Here at Wilson Gunn, we can work with you and guide you through every step of the patenting process in the UK, Europe and beyond. Our attorneys are very knowledgeable and highly experienced across all technical disciplines. We will understand your invention and will tailor our approach to help you to get the most commercial benefit from your patent protection.
For further information about the process of obtaining a patent, click here to download our patents leaflet.