Note: The following is intended to be a basic guide to general principles only and does not constitute advice. The law and the registration process varies from country to country and you should contact us for advice on particular cases.
If another party, without your permission, makes use of the invention covered by your patent then you may take legal action against the unauthorised user. A successful action for infringement is likely to lead to an injunction preventing further unauthorised use of the patented invention and, possibly, an award of damages if your business has suffered because of the unauthorised use of the patented invention.
European patents can be opposed at the EPO within nine months from the date of grant. If you are aware of a European patent recently granted to a competitor that would conflict with your current or planned future commercial activities, you might consider the EPO opposition procedure as a means of resolving the conflict. An opposition, if successful, would result in the revocation of the patent or the limitation of the rights provided by the patent such that the patent is no longer a threat to your business.
Subscription to a watching service enables you to monitor the patent activity of your competitors so that you have knowledge of anything they are doing that might conflict with your own business or your commercial plans for the future.
A patent owner can sell or transfer the patent rights to another party who would then assume ownership and, thus, obtain the legal rights associated with the grant of the patent.
A patent owner can grant a licence to another party enabling that party to use the invention covered by the patent, usually in return for royalty payments. In such a situation, the patent owner retains ownership of the patent rights.
A granted patent has to be maintained “in force” by the payment, usually annually, of a renewal fee to the Patent Office/Intellectual Property Office of the country in which the patent has been granted.
This depends on the laws of the country/territory for which the patent has been granted. Many countries, like the UK, allow a maximum duration of 20 years starting from the date on which the patent application was filed.
A formal application, containing details of the applicant, together with a specification (a document containing a description of the invention, its essential and its preferred features and how it is to be carried out, and one or more claims which define the invention for which protection is required) have to be submitted to the Patent Office/Intellectual Property Office which has jurisdiction in the territory for which the patent protection is required. The date on which the very first patent application for the invention is filed is called “the priority date”.
A patent application is processed according to the laws and rules applicable to the country/territory for which it was filed. If the patent application is eventually considered by the Patent Office/Intellectual Property Office of that country/territory to meet the legal requirements, a patent will be granted to the applicant.
In Europe, according to the European Patent Convention (EPC), a patentable invention is one that is new (i.e. different from what is in the public domain), involves an inventive step (i.e. is not obvious from what is in the public domain) and is susceptible of industrial application (i.e. is of practical use). Specific exclusions from patent protection in Europe include discoveries of naturally occurring substances, scientific theories, mathematical methods, aesthetic creations, commercial methods, presentations of information, plant or animal varieties, essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals and methods for treatment of humans or animals by surgery or therapy or diagnostic methods practised on the human or animal body.
Many countries in the world have patentability requirements aligned to those of the EPC. In any country which has different requirements, a patentable invention will be one that meets the requirements of the law that applies to that particular country.
An invention may be thought of as any technological innovation. This might be a product (e.g. an article, device, machine or chemical composition) or a process (e.g. for making something or for performing a task) or the use of a product to achieve a desired effect.
A patent is an exclusive right, granted to an applicant, for an invention. The granted right is limited in both its territory and its lifetime. The legal protection provided by a patent allows the patent owner to invoke the law to stop any unauthorised copying of the invention. Patents can become extremely valuable business assets.
We can carry out a subject matter search, using selected key words, through professional databases from our office computers. For more complicated searches, we can instruct professional searchers to produce reports on existing prior art. Searches are recommended before you proceed with the filing of your own patent application for an invention since these might not only identify prior art that you should consider before embarking on your own filing but might also bring to light any existing rights belonging to competitors that might prevent you from commercialising your own invention.
Unfortunately, requirements and procedures vary so much from case to case that it is not possible to give a realistic general figure. We will be happy to provide estimates of likely costs arising following a discussion with you of your requirements.
Any information about your invention that is placed in the public domain before you file the patent application could prevent you from obtaining valid patent protection for the invention. Therefore, if it is necessary for you to disclose any details of the invention before filing the patent application (for instance, to secure funding), it is essential that the party to whom you wish to disclose sensitive information agrees to treat all information received from you as confidential. This is routinely achieved by the signing of a written confidentiality agreement.
An application for a United Kingdom patent when granted will provide protection for the owner only in the United Kingdom. If protection is required in another country then a patent application will also have to be filed at the national Patent Office/Intellectual Property Office of that country. In order to maintain the right to the priority date, the patent application will have to be filed at the national Patent Office/Intellectual Property Office of the other country within 12 months starting from the priority date (the very first filing date in the UK). If patent protection in several European countries is required, it is possible to obtain a regional patent having effect in each of these countries by filing a European patent application at the European Patent Office. The Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) provides for the filing, initially, of a single international application which has the same legal effect as national applications filed separately in the designated Contracting States. The PCT is very useful for obtaining patent protection in many different countries throughout the world. Any patent derived initially from a PCT application will be a national patent granted by each designated Contracting State. At the present time, no world patent or international patent exists.
It will proceed, after various formal matters have been completed, to the search stage in the Patent Office/Intellectual Property Office when an Examiner will carry out various searches through published documents (usually existing patents, published patent applications and academic papers) to identify any which might be relevant for the purposes of determining whether the invention claimed in the patent application is patentable. The patent application will be published approximately 18 months after the priority date and, thereafter, will be subjected to a detailed examination to determine whether or not a patent can be granted in respect of the application in its present form. If the Examiner finds that the form of the application is not acceptable, the Examiner will issue a letter explaining the problems and will set a period of time in which arguments and/or amendments may be submitted in reply. The procedure continues until either the form of the application is considered to be acceptable for the grant of a patent or the Examiner decides that no acceptable form is being provided by the applicant in which case the application may be refused.
No. However, if you do not apply for a patent for the invention and information relating to the details of the invention and how it may be made are put into the public domain then anyone will be free to use that information to make, use or sell the invention without requiring your permission. If you try to keep your invention secret then another party might apply for a patent for the or a similar invention which might, if the patent is granted, severely affect your own business which secretly makes use of the invention.
In addition to having the right to decide who is, and who is not, allowed to use the patented invention (and, obviously, on what terms any use will be permitted), the patent owner can sell the patent rights to another party.
Patent protection for an invention generally means that no commercial use (whether this is by manufacturing, using, selling or offering for sale) of the invention can be carried out in the country for which the patent has been granted without the patent owner’s permission. The patent owner can enforce the protection, if necessary, through the Court.