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What IP Do You Own? (4)

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An invention can be protected by registration of a patent at the Intellectual Property Office. The invention must be new, inventive, capable of being made or used in some kind of industry.

An invention is not new if it is already in the public domain – even if you, as the inventor, put it out there. So, if you have an invention, or an idea, keep it to yourself! Once you spill the beans, the idea is in the public domain and it is no longer capable of registration as a patent. Consequently it loses all or most of its value to you. An important lesson to learn is that any disclosure you may need to make should be protected by a confidentiality agreement. This applies eg. to disclosures to someone asked to produce a prototype, or to print the design specification and drawings. Ideally, invest in some advice at a very early stage.

An ‘invention’ is not inventive, it is obvious to someone with knowledge and experience in the subject.

There are some specific exclusions from the scope of patent protection including: scientific discoveries and methods; artistic works (protected by copyright); an animal; a method of medical treatment or diagnosis.

Patent protection, subject to payment of renewal fees, lasts for up to 20 years in the UK. It confers the right to prevent others from copying, manufacturing, selling or importing your invention without your permission (licence). A patent can be sold, or licensed or (of course) the inventor may – perhaps with others – go into business to exploit the IP.

Patents are published by the IPO after 18 months. The database of patents is a valuable resource of technical information.

See also our notes on … Intellectual Property and our Self audit of IP … and watch out for the next post in this series.