Patents Faqs

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Frequently asked Patents Questions

Patents are territorial rights and are enforceable only in the jurisdictions they cover. A UK patent will only give its owner rights within the United Kingdom. This includes the right to stop others from importing articles which infringe the owner's rights into the UK. If an applicant desires patent protection in other European countries or the USA for instance, they must make separate applications at the European Patent office or the US patent office, as at present there is no single world-wide system of granting patents, although there are some treaties/ conventions (Covering Europe, US, and other parts of the world, see Patent Cooperation Treaty route here) that award a patent applicant protection in a number of jurisdictions. However, it is important to note that what you get in these instances is not one single patent as such, but a bundle of national rights which must be pursued individually. Furthermore most jurisdiction will have specific (and usually slightly different) requirements that must be satisfied before a patent is granted from the single Patent application.
A patent gives its owner the right to prevent others from making, using or selling the invention without the owners permission. A patent does not give the inventor the right to make, use or sell an invention. This is because the inventor's ability to do these things may be subject to the patent rights of others.
In the UK, a patent has a life of up to 20 years from the date of filing. However, in the pharmaceutical industry where marketing permission must be acquired before a drug can be put on the market,and which effectively delays the time it takes for a drug to get to market, it is possible to obtain what is known as a Supplementary Protection Certificate(SPC), which are governed by EU regulation 469/2009 (there is a separate regulation covering SPCs for plant protection products, regulation 1610/96)and ensures that the total term of protection is still 20 years. In practice most patents are maintained for shorter periods of time, mostly because of the pace of technological advancement, and also economic reasons such as short product lifetimes.
Yes, as long as its an 'international' exhibition. But generally, and seemingly against commercial sense, it may not be a good idea to do so because it may be possible for someone to copy your idea, or even come up with a very similar variant. And if an application for a patent is then filed in respect of the variant, in the same or different jurisdiction, it may make it difficult for you to get protection as your idea may have been publicly disclosed, and the variant may 'anticipate' your invention. Eventually, it may be impossible to bar them from making, using or licensing their variant to others, because in Europe (unlike the US), inventorship is judged on a first to file basis, so that the person who files an application first is generally regarded to be the inventor.
If you are due to display your invention at an exhibition, ensure that you send the details of your invention to your representative to file a Patent, hopefully before the exhibition, but even if it means faxing them details of the invention on the morning of the exhibition.
It is highly advisable that you request a Patent Search for the jurisdiction in which you propose to market your invention. The search could reveal whether something similar already exists in the public domain, or whether someone else has filed an application for a similar product or process. At Mancunium IP, we have experience in conducting both patent and trade mark searches covering various jurisdictions. You can find more useful information about patent searches in the Patents page of this website.
Although there are some provisions for certain types of disclosure, once you disclose your idea publicly (and in the absence of confidentiality) without first applying for a Patent, then novelty is destroyed and you may have difficulty applying for a patent, and even if you did, a third party who later finds out that the invention had been disclosed, could apply to invalidate your Patent. Furthermore, there is no possibility of secrecy any longer as the matter is now in the public domain. But most importantly, most companies have a policy that excepts them from being bound by any non-disclosure agreements, as they could claim that your idea was already conceived by one of their employees, and "was in development" the moment you had a meeting with them. This means that they usually cannot promise to be bound by your terms. Before you sign any documents/ agreements from a big company, show a copy of the agreement to your representative / agent.
Thus, a much safer alternative which we would recommend would involve to first file an application and only then approach a prospective manufacturer/ investor, so that if they then decide to buy your invention, they would be free to do whatsoever they wish with it, including withdrawal of the patent application altogether before it is published, but if they didn't buy your invention, your rights would not be compromised. Try not to approach a manufacturer before you have a Patent on file.
We have encountered people who thought like this on at least two occasions. Letting someone else steal your idea is never advisable. Unlike the US, where there was once a system of "first-to invent", in that the person who proves that they were the first to "reduce to practice" the invention, can in certain circumstances be acknowledged as the inventor, Europe and most countries have a "first-to-file" system, and once you disclose your idea publicly without any patent application pending, even if you truly were the first person to conceive the original idea, you may have some difficulty getting a patent, or getting the patent rights transferred to you, unless the disclosure was in breach of a confidential agreement (includes a verbal agreement). However, even if you managed to apply for a patent, a competitor (or infringer) who later finds out that relevant prior art did exist, and can prove so, could make observations which may make it difficult or impossible for your application to grant. Furthermore, once the information is in the public domain, there is no longer a possibility of secrecy as the matter already known to the public cannot be subject of a patent application. Therefore, your patent could be fully or partially invalid if it is established that relevant prior art did exist prior to you making the application, and the alleged infringer may be free to continue making and selling your invention.
When you file a first provisional application at a patent office regarding an invention that hasn't previously been the subject of any patent application, a filing date is obtained for that application. That filing date is the priority date. This is important because that filing will have an effect in other subsequent patent filings in 'Convention countries' (for example, countries acceded to the Patent Cooperation Treaty) such that the subsequent filings will be considered as having been filed at the priority date in those convention countries. But in order to do this, the applicant must make the subsequent filings within 12 months from the filing/ priority date. All patent documents claiming priority will have priority data printed on them.

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