Protecting a potentially lucrative idea can be exciting and unnerving in equal measure! Ultimately, it is fundamental to its long-term profitability. By defining and demonstrating the original aspects of your idea you’ll be able to stop a third party from legally developing an identical product and ruining all your hard work.
First things first, you need to ensure the protection a patent provides is sufficient enough to stop your idea being copied within your industry.
It’s imperative that you don’t apply to patent an invention that isn’t new to the market. There are ways and means of ensuring that you don’t waste your hard-earned money by attempting to patent existing technology.
Searching for existing patents
Even if you are certain that your idea or invention is wholly unique, it is always best to carry out a worldwide patent prior art search whether or not you plan to apply for a national or an international patent.
Note: If an idea has been done before at any time in any country of the world it cannot be re-patented.
There are some free and commercial national and international patent databases you can use at the Business & IP Centre to search for similar or identical patents:
View more than 90 million patent documents worldwide using Espacenet and the European Patent Register. The database dates from 1836 for major western countries, but it’s important to note that it only dates back as far as the 1970’s for some nations.
Note: Espacenet only covers patent specification and publications (labelled XP) cited in patent search reports but the only searchable elements are the patent specifications.
A World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) database which includes 52 million patent documents, with regional and national patent collections from up to 38 participating nations.
Drafting a patent application
Once your invention or idea has been defined and developed – and you have ascertained that it is unique – you can then proceed toward a draft patent application with the IPO.
The draft patent application should feature:
- A written description of your suggested invention and, potentially, drawings to illustrate your description;
- Claims – exact legal statements in single sentence format to define your invention and its technical features;
- An abstract – summarising all the key technical aspects of your invention.
Under no circumstances would we recommend you to complete such an important legal document without seeking the guidance of a chartered patent attorney. The contents of this document cannot be understated as it outlines specifically the rights of any patent granted cover. It’s therefore vital that you liaise with a professional adviser who has the knowledge and experience to weigh up whether your idea is appropriate for patent protection.
Of all the various forms of intellectual property, patents are the one form that always require the assistance of a patent attorney. You’ll be able to find a suitable adviser from The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA).
Filing your UK patent application
The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) is the government body responsible for registering intellectual property in the UK and as such provides comprehensive information relating to patents and patent filing on their website.
It’s possible to file a UK patent application with the IPO either online or by post. You can request and pay for your search and examination at this point or later in the application process.
See the IPO's guide to patent fees here.
A patent gives inventors - such as you - the intellectual property protection that stops others, for a limited period, from making, using and selling their inventions without prior permission. If you’re thinking of patenting a new idea and you’re unsure whether there are similar products and concepts already patented in the UK, sign up to our ‘How do I search patents?’ workshop and let us help you utilise the free web databases available to find out how to protect your ideas. Visit our events page to view our upcoming events.