Legal Advice

How to patent an idea in the UK – everything you need to know

Cameron Fleming | 15 September 2021 | 3 years ago

How to Patent an Idea UK

The invention of the light bulb has been attributed to many people, but history is unclear. What we do know is that Thomas Edison was granted a patent for his light bulb in 1879, and ever since then inventors have relied on patents to protect their ideas from being stolen. A patent is a legal document that protects your invention from being copied or stolen. It can help you generate revenue through licensing deals with other companies, or by manufacturing your product yourself.

In this article, we will explore how UK patents work, what kind of ideas they can protect, and why they are so effective at protecting ideas from being stolen or copied by others.

What is a patent?

A patent is an intellectual property right that gives the owner exclusive rights to make and sell an invention or product for a certain number of years. This helps inventors and developers get credit and earn money for their ideas while protecting others from copying them. A lot of people think that obtaining a pattern will be difficult or expensive, but isn’t always the case. Patents can protect any kind of idea that has not been done before. That includes software, inventions, and other products. UK patents last twenty years from when they are filed and are then subject to renewal at the end of that time. 

How much does a patent cost?

It costs around £500 to file an application for a standard UK patent, but if you pay another £200 on top of this you can fast-track your application so it’s processed more quickly. The cost will depend on what kind of idea is being patented, how complex it is, and other factors like that. However, after filing, there are several other fees that will have to be paid before a patent is issued, which include: the issue fee – just over £900; maintaining your exclusive ownership rights up until grant – about 15% of the first year renewal fee; and the registration payment – about £200.

Why are patents so effective at protecting ideas?

Patents are one of the most effective ways to protect your invention from being copied or stolen because they have a lifespan of twenty years that is counted from the date they are filed within any given country. This means that even if someone copies your idea after you get a patent for it in another country, you can still enforce your rights against them under what’s called “nationality”. For example, if you are an inventor living in the UK and you get your UK patent before filing internationally, you will be able to use your UK patent as proof of ownership anywhere else around the world. Furthermore, even if there isn’t yet any protection offered in the country you are filing for, if your patent application is accepted, it will stop other people from receiving patents which would otherwise have been granted.

Steps for getting a UK patent: 

The process of applying for a patent is fairly straightforward but there is a lot that needs to be done. Here is how to do it:

  • First, you need to decide if your idea or invention is patentable. To do this you must be able to show that your idea has an inventive step when compared with what already exists in that industry or area of technology. If it doesn’t meet this criteria then your application may be refused. 
  • Second, find out which type of patent best suits your needs. There are two types of patent available in the UK: utility patents and design patents and plant patents. You can apply for both at once but only choose one if necessary. 
  • Third, decide whether you will file for a UK patent or an International (pCT) application – which is one filed in about 100 countries around the world through the WIPO. There are advantages and disadvantages of each, so read up on them thoroughly before making your decision. Previously UK patents were automatically granted the same status in the European Union, but post-Brexit you will need to look into your options.
  • Fourth, get everything together that is required for filing your UK patent application including: descriptions; drawings/figures where necessary; claims (which are the most important part); an abstract, which is a brief overview of your invention; an applicant’s declaration; and the filing fee.
  • Finally, after the patent has been granted, you need to protect your invention and stop anyone else from copying it. Patents are so effective because they offer something no other form of protection can: the monopoly right to sell your product in a certain country. It is important that this status and exclusivity is protected by sending out Notices of Threatened Litigation (NTL) letters if someone tries to copy or steal your invention! It will cost about £40 per letter but it is well worth it to protect your intellectual property.

How can you make money from your patent?

Once that’s done, you can start looking into how much money there might be in licensing out your idea. This will enable you to sell on the use of your intellectual property so that others can produce and sell products based around what makes yours special.

Once you’ve had a few offers of licensing, decide who to sign your licensing agreement with carefully. It’s likely going to be the company which has made you the best offer (in terms of money and other benefits) that will become responsible for actively promoting or selling your idea on your behalf, and if this is done well, there could be some major royalties set to come your way. 

Patent a great idea

What are the three types of patents used around the world?

The UK has only two patents; design patents and utility patents. Many countries have both of these as well as a third type; plant patents:

Design Patents

A design patent covers how something looks; whether it’s the shape, materials or ornamentation. They are often more work than utility patents because there needs to be some kind of unique design present rather than simply functionality which can make them harder (and therefore less appealing) to obtain. In fact, many companies often don’t want the headache that comes with protecting this type of idea when it may end up being rejected. However, a design patent is well worth having if you know you have an invention that will draw envy from your competitors.

Utility Patents

A utility patent protects how an invention works. These last for twenty years from when they’ve been filed meaning there could potentially be multiple renewals after this time if required. These renewals apply automatically unless stated otherwise on filing making them very useful, especially for big companies since their products may last many years before they need to replace or update them. Plus with each renewal comes more money from anyone who wants to use your invention. Win win!

Plant Patents (not available in the UK)

A plant patent protects new varieties of plants that have been developed by someone through artificial means like cross-breeding or grafting; basically anything not found in nature which has the potential to become a marketable product. These last for 20 years after they’ve been applied for or 17 years from when they were first disclosed (whichever comes later), and require more work than utility patents since these plants must also show some kind of ‘inventive quality’. This can mean showing how something was created artificially even if it’s just its genetic makeup. This may have been by crossing two specific breeds to get a plant with desired traits, or growing seeds in an area where they would never naturally grow.

Is it easy to get a worldwide patent?

When you file a patent application in the UK, this creates an initial filing date and priority on that date with Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) member countries. This is important because it can stop other people from obtaining a patent for your idea in these other countries before you if they are members of PCT- which most big companies will be.

If someone tries to get a patent anyway, then you have up to six months after their first publication to apply for a Supplementary Protection Certificate (SPC). SPCs are issued by national offices around the world and they give you twenty years protection beyond the standard expiration dates. This means there could potentially be life in your idea even after it’s been out there for quite some time.

The costs associated with applying vary greatly depending on where you’re filing, but are usually around £500-£1000 for the initial UK application, plus another few hundred pounds if you want to extend protection by applying for an SPC.

patents and copyrights

What are some other useful types of intellectual property protection? 

Copyrights

Copyrights protect original works of authorship meaning books, songs, artwork and other similar things. Basically, anything that has been recorded, written down, or otherwise created. The idea behind copyrights is to prevent people stealing others’ work and profiting from it themselves. This means if your idea isn’t in a tangible form (i.e. like words on paper) then you can’t get a copyright for it.

Trademarks 

Trademarks protect any name, word or logo that uniquely identifies and distinguishes a business or brand from others who may try to use those things in their marketing material or products. These can be very helpful if you have an invented name for your product so no one else can try to sell something similar under the guise of it being partnered with yours. Big companies may have multiple trademarks. For example, the American sportswear giant Nike has three; the name Nike, the “Swoosh” logo, and the slogan “Just Do It:. Trademarks need renewing before 20 years is up or they risk becoming public property. This means anyone could then start using them again without repercussion meaning there’s zero protection. Unlike patents, however, trademarks do not require any kind of examination by a patent office in order to be granted. Once registered (for around £300 in the UK) your trademark will be good to go until someone challenges it which generally speaking is very unlikely.

Non-Disclosure Agreements 

Commonly known as NDAs, non-disclosure agreements are often in the news as being used by the rich and powerful to try to cover up their misdeeds. However, they are very useful in helping to protect your idea from being stolen by others who you may share it with. They basically mean that information shared between parties, such as suppliers, contractors or employees, is confidential and must not be used or passed on to a third party without your permission. How this works in practice is if another business tries to steal your ideas, but you have an NDA with them, then legally speaking you can sue them for damages. NDAs are very important, especially when starting a new venture since the ideas will need protection right off the bat. Make sure everyone signs one before any kind of sensitive information sharing takes place. NDAs are binding contracts which means breaking one is illegal and the potential damages can be enormous. 

To sum up

A great idea or invention can be a ticket to money, fame, and success, but only if you make sure that you are the one who profits. With so many people looking to steal other’s ideas, or use them without getting the owner’s permission, is it crucial that you take all the necessary steps to protect your intellectual property. The best way to do this is with a patent as it provides you with the sole ownership rights so that only you can use your idea. As explained in this article, the patent application process is fairly straightforward but you may need a fair bit of money to get one. If in doubt, speak to a patent lawyer who will be able to tell you whether it is worth applying for a patent for your idea, and give you some tips on the cheapest, easiest way to go about it.

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