Before we begin, let’s first clarify exactly what a ‘patent’ is. According to Wikipedia, a patent is ‘a set of exclusive rights granted … to an inventor or assignee … in exchange for detailed public disclosure of an invention.’ You may be aware of intellectual property, but fully understanding what qualifies as a patentable design is another matter. It is a complex area and one that is best handled with the assistance of a professional consultancy firm that specialise in the area.
Let’s take a look at the steps involved in getting your design patent in the UK. (Please note that the information given below is in accordance with the UK Intellectual Property Office.
#1 Is it patentable?
You need to be sure that your idea is patentable before going through the process because it is not only a time consuming journey (it can take several years to finalise a patent) but it is also an expensive one. Your idea needs to be classified in the patent classification list which can be found and downloaded here. Once you have discovered if it is a patentable idea, move to the next step.
Ok, so your idea qualifies as one that can be patented, however, is it new? You need to search the database of published patents in the UK, which can be found on the IPO UK website. In addition, if you have the intention of protecting your idea outside of the UK in the future, it is wise to refer to Espacenet, which is the patent search database for patents published throughout the European Union. Once you have established that your idea is not only eligible for patent protection but it has not yet been registered either, you are good to begin the official process.
#3 Draft your patent application
You are now at the stage where you are sure your idea is unique, available for registering and aware of the patents potential value. This is important, because oftentimes, patents are awarded yet they are not worth the money it cost in getting the exclusive rights.
The drafting of the application (unless it is a very straightforward design or invention) should be done with the help of an intellectual property lawyer/chartered patent attorney who specialises specifically in the field of getting patents. The benefit of enlisting the services of an expert is that the risk of infringing terms within the patent application process are significantly lower, and the process can usually be expedited.
Please note that you can self-file your application, but it is generally not advised.
#4 Your exclusive rights
As a patent owner in the UK, you will have exclusive rights over your design for up to 25 years before renewal is required. You can therefore protect your unique idea or innovation against copies and can prevent competitors from ‘ripping off’ or ‘under selling’ your idea. Should your rights be infringed by a third party, you will have to fund the legal action taken, but the advantage as a patent owner is that the onus is on the competitor in a court of law to prove they did not infringe your rights.
Before you decide to go for a patent, you need to assess all of your options. The patent application process can take several years while the UK IPO will only publish your application after 18 months of filing. There are other options available to you though, including design rights, trademarks, copyright and trade secrets. Be sure to assess all your options before initiating the patent application process.