Other Types of Intellectual Property
Patents – Protection for Inventions
Patents protect inventions and innovations that have commercial application. A patent grants its owner a 20 year period in which it may exclusively exploit its invention. In return for this period of exclusivity, the invention is made public so that others can see the invention to encourage them to develop different inventions during this time frame.
Patents can protect how things work and what they do; processes and methods that are used to make things and how they are made and the machines and processes that are used to do it. They can even protect the uses of things. For example, patents can protect computer hardware, electrical appliances, pharmaceuticals, chemical compositions, machines and the technical function behind all types of products.
What is the purpose of patents?
Patents give monopoly rights to inventors in turn for them disclosing their invention to the world.
This allows the inventors and assignees the exclusive rights to exploit their invention while allowing others to learn from the innovation. It incentivises research and development as well as encouraging the findings to be used in further innovation.
What can be patented?
Patent protection is afforded to inventions that are:
- New – as long as no one has disclosed your invention anywhere in the world before;
- Inventive – as long as an expert in the field would think your invention is inventive and not obvious; and,
- Capable of industrial application.
What can’t be patented?
Patent protection does not extend to:
- artistic creation (this is covered by copyright),
- scientific or mathematical methods or discovery,
- ways of playing games or doing business,
- some computer programmes,
- animals or plant varieties,
- methods of medical treatment or diagnosis, or
- anything against public policy or morality.
What is the geographical coverage of your patent?
Patent rights offer territorial protection – they only arise in the country or territory in which they are granted.
Once a patent has been published in any country the invention or innovation that it discloses is no longer ‘new’ so no one else anywhere in the world can then file for patent protection for the same invention.
What can you do with your patent?
Patent protection is a monopoly right that allows the owner to exclusively:
- make the product,
- dispose of the product, offer to dispose of the product or keep the product for disposal,
- use the product, or
- import the product.
- use the process,
- offer the process for use, or
- dispose of, offer to dispose of, keep, use or import any product obtained directly through the process.
This means that no one else can do any of the above in the applicable territory or territories with anything that incorporates your patented invention without your consent.
Who owns the patent?
Patent protection is usually afforded to the inventor, however, if something is invented in the course of employment, the employer is usually the owner.
The inventor will still be included on the patent under ‘inventor’ and the employer will be the ‘assignee’.
How do you obtain a patent for your invention?
There are a number of routes to patent protection.
You can file directly with a national patent office. You can also file through the European Patent Office (EPO) or the World Intellectual Property Office (WIPO), amongst others, which are known as ‘regional patent offices’. Filing through the EPO does not afford you blanket protection in Europe, and filing through WIPO does not afford you global protection, but will allow you some extra time to decide where you would like to file and to fully draft your application and can be cheaper.
Where should you apply for patent protection?
Patent protection is territorial so you must file for protection in all the countries in which you wish to have a granted patent.
Deciding on which country to file in is a commercial decision for you to make. You know your business better than anyone and are best-placed to decide where you would need to protect your invention.
You should think about where you will sell your product, where your product will be made, where you will use your process and any potential future markets.
When should you apply for patent protection?
Because patent applications need to be for new inventions you should apply for a patent before disclosing your invention in any way before filing. This includes mentioning it on your website or to third parties.
How long does patent protection last?
Patents last for 20 years, after which the strength of a business’ brand and trade mark will help to ensure competitive edge.
Next – Design Rights.