Have you just come up with a brilliant idea that nobody else has ever thought of? It may be something simple or something that will make headline news around the world, but if you're the first to come up with it, you may need to protect your interests by registering a patent.
If your invention is patented, you can take legal steps against anyone who tries to use your invention, or you can licence the patent to a company for manufacture and marketing, in exchange for royalty payments. By registering a patent, you can prevent others with a similar or even identical invention from patenting their product, and the patent itself is a sign that your invention really is something different.
So how do you go about registering your shiny new invention? The details may vary from country to country, but these are the steps you need to take to patent your invention in the UK.
What can I patent?
To be eligible for a patent, your idea must be capable of manufacture. In other words, it must be made for use by the general public, or used in manufacture by industry. Examples of these criteria could be a new labour-saving household device, or an industrial machine - or part of a machine - that can do something that's never been done before. Your invention may make it possible to perform a procedure in a new way, and this would also be eligible for consideration for a patent.
You can't patent ideas, theories, computer software, books, paintings or sculptures. However, there are other ways of protecting your rights over these concepts and aesthetics.
Keep it a secret
You might want to shout about your new invention from the rooftops, but if you do, you relinquish your rights to patent the product. Don't talk about it, write articles about it or demonstrate it until the patent is applied for. If you are working in conjunction with another inventor, ensure that they realise the importance of secrecy.
Is it really new?
Your invention should contain something revolutionary - in other words, something that isn't a logical next step which would be obvious to someone with expertise in the field of your invention. It goes without saying that your invention should not infringe another patent.
Registering the patent
You may decide to seek expert advice on this, as the process is quite expensive and takes some time. First of all, prepare a specification which gives full details of your invention and how it works. If possible, include drawings. A charge of 130GBP is payable, in order to perform a search to check for existing, similar patents. Ensure all details are correct, as you cannot make changes once the submission is made.
During the next year, file a 'claim,' which is a precise statement about your invention. Include an abstract, which should highlight the main technical points of your invention. You should also consider whether you need to file patents abroad.
Provided all the criteria are met, the UK Intellectual Property Office will publish the patent and make a 'substantive examination,' for which you must pay. The patent will then be re-published, and the patent granted.
Protecting your interests
Remember it is your responsibility to protect your patent from misuse. A simple letter may be enough, or you may have to go to court. During the patent granting process, it's advisable to print 'patent pending' on products and in advertising.
You can apply for a patent online at the UK Intellectual Property Office, where you will also find more information and advice on the whole process.