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General information about patents
First off, you need to understand the intellectual property you already own and the
different forms of intellectual property protection available to you. This document
assumes you are interested in the situation in the UK and Europe.
A Patent protects inventions (the application of an idea). It doesn't protect a
discovery or algorithm itself - only it's use in industry and commerce from the time it is
granted to 20 years after the date that you filed it. This is the most expensive and
difficult form of protection to obtain but is also the most powerful - it can stop people
doing something similar to you even if they haven't copied you or heard about you.
Trademarks are invaluable for a business because they don't expire! It is important
to register a trademark (the wording and logo) to help ensure that no-one copies your
business name or the name you give your product or service. If you are feeling
adventurous - note that it is possible to trademark the non-functional appearance of
your product or packaging.
Copyright is an automatic right to prevent others copying your aesthetic creations.
This includes all your documentation whether on paper or disk. It protects against
your computer programs being copied but doesn't prevent someone independently
making software to do the same thing. Copyright protects the expression of an idea or
data but not the idea or data itself.
When you have a final design for a product you might as well register the design too.
This prevents anyone copying it's appearance but not how it works.
Once you have filed a patent consider getting patent insurance for use if you need
to sue someone for infringing your rights (the main value is that it deters people from
copying you). Be warned that it is expensive because for it to be a real deterrent you
will need plenty of cover (it needs to cover your opponents legal fees too in case you
lose a court battle).
More about patents -
You need to think about which countries you want to protect your Patents, Designs
and Trademarks in. For the UK, a lot of information can be found at the Patent Office.
Starting with your home country, plan where you want patent protection. Most
consumer products would best be protected across Europe, and in the US and Japan.
Strategies for industrial products are more varied. Within 12 months of your home
patent filing you will need to file for the other countries (Taiwan is an exception).
Fortunately there are two simplifying procedures - you can file a PCT application
(sometimes called an international application) within those 12 months and simply
state which countries you want protection in (applies to the vast majority of important
countries). Eventually you still need to deal with all the individual regional patent
offices but the PCT route slows things down so you can decide which countries you
want to pay for at a later stage. The other major simplification is the EPO application
(Europe-wide) - you can even designate the EPO in your PCT application. Again this
simplifies things but technically it is a bundle of national applications.
If you take the PCT route expect lots of fees from all directions during the third year of
your home application. If not then expect the onslaught during the second year of
your home application.
Remember that having a patent does not necessarily give you the sole right to use
an invention. There are lots of patents which cover more than a specific invention and
claim a whole field of technology. Some of these shouldn't have been granted and
you should refuse to be bullied by their owners. In other cases they may legitimately
have a hold on what you want to do. In the worst case scenario it is your application
which should not have been granted. Be ready to deal with and preferably
cross-licence with other right-holders, especially if they aren't actually your
Warning: Nothing in this document constitutes legal advice. Talk to a business advisor
and an intellectual property advisor in your country before taking any action or
making any decisions.
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