Patents are, potentially, the most valuable type of IP. Patents protect inventions which relate to a product and/or a process to make a product. They arise particularly from research & development in the medical, science, technology and engineering fields.
Once a patent has been granted, it offers the owner a ‘monopoly’ right. This means that only the owner, or someone else with the owner’s consent, can use the invention for commercial purposes. Say you have thought of an invention for a new type of tea bag which can be used 50 times without losing any flavour! Useful. This invention will be patentable if: (1) it has not been disclosed publicly anywhere in the world prior to filing the patent application; (2) it is inventive; and (3) it is capable of industrial application, (essentially any commercial, medical or other practical use).
If you think your invention is potentially patentable it is essential that the details of the invention are kept secret until the application for the patent is made. Disclosure of the key features of the invention before that will make your patent application invalid and so may be refused or be open to challenge in the future if granted.
Some practical tips to help protect your inventions, including how to register a patent are set out below:
If you come up with a new invention, is it patentable? Consider whether your invention has been previously disclosed – e.g. look at existing patents, key word searches. Use the internet, in particular esp@cenet.
Keep both originals and copies of all notes, reports, drawings, lab books etc. relating to the invention in a secure place. You should try to record as much detail as possible. Ensure all originals and copies are dated and are sufficiently detailed (and clear!) to identify the invention and how it works. Get your supervisor to sign and date laboratory notebooks on a regular basis.
Keep the invention confidential. If you need to disclose any information, you should first speak to your supervisor.
If, having done your initial searches/investigations you still think your idea is patentable, let your supervisor know and contact your IP commercialisation organisation to set up a meeting.
If it is decided to go ahead, a patent application can be drawn up, usually with the help of a patent agent, and filed at the UK IPO. Once filed, you can indicate on any relevant marketing literature, publications or products “Patent applied for, No. [NUMBER]”. Do not do this before you have filed, as it is illegal to do so.