A brief patent primer

What is a patent?

A patent is a monopoly right granted by a government or regional body that gives the owner, or a licensee, the ability to stop others from carrying out the invention claimed in the patent document. In short (and very simplistically) , it allows you to sue others for doing what you’ve got covered in your patent. The patent document therefore must include a definition of the invention (i.e. the “claims” of the patent) , and also must provide a full description of the invention, sufficient to teach someone how to carry out the invention.

A common mistake is to think that, if you have a patent for an invention, then you are automatically allowed to use, make or sell the invention. This is not necessarily true. There may be others who got there before you with a more broadly based patent that covers your inventive addition to the field. For example, if you invent a teacup with a handle, then someone who holds a valid patent covering a teacup (with no mention of a handle) could stop you from using your invention.

The need for novelty and inventiveness

To be able to get a granted patent the invention must, of course, be new, and inventive. An invention is new if it is not in the public domain, and is not known by anyone else but yourself (or your company), unless they too are obliged to keep it confidential. So, if you’ve invented something that you may wish to patent, then you should not tell others about the invention without taking advice from a patent attorney. Disclosure to the wrong person could mean that your invention will lose its novelty, and be ineligible for patent protection.

Preparation of a patent application

The preparation of a patent document (or “patent drafting” as it is called) is a skilled task, as the wording should be chosen to protect the full scope of the invention without also trying to claim what is already known. There is a lot of case law generated over many years that determines how the claims of a patent are interpreted. This is one of the many areas where the skills of the patent attorney are brought to play, and much effort is spent on deriving a suitable claim wording.

Geographic coverage

A patent gives cover only in the jurisdiction in which it applies. A UK patent only covers the UK, a US only covers the USA, etc. So, if you want to protect your invention in more than just the UK then separate foreign filings will be needed. There are different ways to go about making these foreign filings, which can make things easier and less costly in the short term. We can advise further on this.