So you’ve identified that you have something patentable and you want to file a patent application. What next?
In order to obtain a granted patent, a right that you can use to stop others from working the invention that the patent protects, you need to file a patent application. This patent application is then searched and examined by a patent office and eventually a patent may be granted.
We will now consider the steps in this process in the context of filing a European or UK patent application. However, in practice the process is the same in most countries.
The main component of a patent application is a patent specification. It’s the document that defines what you’ve invented, the legal scope of protection you want, and how your invention works.
While anyone can prepare a patent specification, it is a legal document and like any other legal document it is best to seek expert guidance. If your invention is ever of any value then your patent specification will likely be picked apart by professionals.
It’s therefore always best to get a patent specification prepared by a professional to ensure you get the best protection possible from the start.
Once you’ve prepared the patent specification it can be filed at a patent office at which point you will have a patent application pending. At that point you can refer to your pending patent and you are free to talk about the idea disclosed in it, should you wish.
This is because the date on which you first file a patent application is the date against which your invention is assessed by the patent offices for whether or not it is patentable. So, generally speaking, what gets into the public domain from that date won’t affect your patent application or the resultant patent.
The first thing the patent office will do is carry out a search for relevant documents available before your patent application was filed. These documents are often called ‘prior art’.
The idea behind this is that the patent office wants to identify anything which may be relevant to the question of whether your invention is patentable, i.e. new and inventive.
The patent office sends you, as the applicant, the results of the search within a few months after you request a search, which is often done on filing.
At this stage, you will likely gain a better idea of what’s already out there. It may be that you were already aware of some of the documents found in the search, but often things that you weren’t aware of crop up.
The next stage in the process is examination. This is where the patent office looks at whether or not you should be granted a patent based on the documents found in the search. In particular, the patent office will need to check whether your invention is both new and inventive.
Usually, the patent office will identify some reasons why your patent application cannot be granted. However, you have the opportunity to then respond to the objections they raise. Often you will have to amend (and usually narrow) the scope of protection provided by your patent.
Eventually, if your patent application meets the patentability requirements, the patent office will grant the patent. However, in some circumstance an application can be refused. It is not uncommon for the process from filing through to grant or refusal to take 3-6 years and sometimes even more.
18 months after the earliest date of filing a patent application for your invention the patent application, including the patent specification defining your invention and describing how your invention works, will be published.
Before this date your invention remains secret. You wish to use this to your advantage and not publicise how your invention works before this date to ensure you have a head start on competitors knowing what you are doing.
If you manage to get a patent, you will need to pay annual renewal fees to keep it in force.
As long as your patent is in force, you have the right to exploit your invention by preventing others using your invention.
A word of warning here – just because you have a patent for your invention doesn’t mean you can actually work the invention defined in the patent! Just to reiterate, a patent only gives you the right to stop others using the invention defined in the patent. So you need to ensure that earlier patents owned by others do not prevent you from using your invention commercially.
Answer last updated: 17 Jan 2018Tags: