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What is a Patent ?
A patent for an invention is granted by government to the inventor, giving the inventor the right for a limited period to stop others from making, using or selling the invention without the permission of the inventor. When a patent is granted, the invention becomes the property of the inventor, which - like any other form of property or business asset - can be bought, sold, rented or hired. Patents are territorial rights; UK Patent will only give the holder rights within the United Kingdom and rights to stop others from importing the patented products into the United Kingdom.

What kinds of things do patents cover?
Patents are generally intended to cover products or processes that possess or contain new functional or technical aspects; patents are therefore concerned with, for example, how things work, what they do, how they do it, what they are made of or how they are made.

The vast majority of patents are for incremental improvements in known technology; it has been said that innovation is evolution rather than revolution.

Are there any special conditions that an invention must fulfil?
To be patentable your invention must:

  • Be new

The invention must never have been made public in any way, anywhere in the world, before the date on which an application for a patent is filed.

  • Involve an inventive step

An invention involves an inventive step if, when compared with what is already known, it would not be obvious to someone with a good knowledge and experience of the subject.

  • Be capable of industrial application

An invention must be capable of being made or used in some kind of industry. This means that the invention must take the practical form of an apparatus or device, a product such as some new material or substance or an industrial process or method of operation.

"Industry" is meant in its broadest sense as anything distinct from purely intellectual or aesthetic activity. It does not necessarily imply the use of a machine or the manufacture of an article. Agriculture is included.

Articles or processes alleged to operate in a manner clearly contrary to well-established physical laws, such as perpetual motion machines, are regarded as not having industrial application.

  • Not be "excluded"

An invention is not patentable if it is:

  • a discovery;

  • a scientific theory or mathematical method;

  • an aesthetic creation such as a literary, dramatic or artistic work;

  • a scheme or method for performing a mental act, playing a game or doing business;

  • the presentation of information, or a computer program.

If the invention involves more than these abstract aspects so that it has physical features (such as a special apparatus to play a new game) then it may be patentable.

In addition, it is not possible to get a patent for an invention if it is a new animal or plant variety; a method of treatment of the human or animal body by surgery or therapy; or a method of diagnosis.

How to apply for a patent
Can I publicly disclose my invention?
If you are thinking of applying for a patent you should not publicly disclose the invention before you file an application because this could be counted as prior publication of your invention. Any type of disclosure (whether by word of mouth, demonstration, advertisement or article in a journal), by the applicant or anyone acting for them, could prevent the applicant from getting a patent.

It could also be a reason for having the patent revoked if one was obtained. It is essential that the applicant only makes any disclosure under conditions of strict confidence.

International patent protection
This section provides information about patent protection in other countries.

Your first move in seeking international patent protection would be to file a UK patent application. Under the relevant international agreement, you then have 12 months during which you must file any foreign, european or world patent application you wish to pursue.

Alternatively, you can file a european or world patent application directly. However, there are clear advantages to filing your application in the United Kingdom first:

  • You get an early, cheap search report from the UK Patent Office. You can use a national application made under the Patents Act 1977 as a basis for claiming priority for an application filed in most other countries.

  • You need to obtain security clearance from the UK Patent Office before you can apply for a patent abroad.

  • You can use the UK search report to make a first assessment of your invention before starting the costly process of obtaining protection abroad.

Why file abroad?
You might want to consider protecting your invention abroad if:

  • you are considering expanding into foreign markets;

  • you do not intend to expand abroad but there are possibilities of licensing; patent protection abroad could prevent unlicensed copying or use of the invention.

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