Protecting Your Inventions


A patent is an intellectual property right granted for a limited period of time.

Patent rights make it illegal for anyone except the owner or someone with the owner’s permission to make, use, import or sell the invention in the country where the patent was granted. As long as renewal fees are paid every year, a UK patent has a life of 20 years and provides protection throughout the UK but no further.

Unlike trademarks and copyrights, there is no specific mark that can be used to mark your invention as patented, however, marking your product could help stop others intentionally infringing your patent rights. Remember it is an offence to mark a product as patented or the subject of a patent application if it snot or when a patent is no longer in force.


Can a UK patent protect an invention in another company?

No, a UK patent only gives the owner rights within the UK. For protection overseas, you need to apply to patent offices in individual countries or through the international patent  system known as the Patent Co-operation Treaty (PCT). Or, you can get patent protection in most European countires by filling out an application under the European Patent Convention (EPC). The Intellectual Property Office can advise on completing EPC and PCT applications, but applying overseas can be complicated and expensive so it is recommended that professional legal advice is sought.


Who can own a patent?

The owner can be the inventor, the inventor’s employee or someone else with patent rights. If you made your invention whilst employed by someone else, even if it was in your own time, it will be necessary to ask a lawyer to check your contract of employment as your employer may have some rights to your invention.


What types of things do patents cover?

Patents generally cover products or processes that contain ‘new’ functional or technical aspects. They are concerned with:

  • How things work;
  • How they are made; or
  • What they are made of.


Is a patent the best way to protect your invention?

Applying for and renewing a patent can be expensive and take a long time. Before applying for a patent you need to consider how commercially successful your invention is likely to be and how quickly you will be able to get it on the market. You should also think of the likely costs of developing, manufacturing and marketing your invention.


Being granted a patent creates an intellectual property right which you can sell, market yourself or lease to others and collect royalties- although it does not mean your invention will automatically be commercially successful.


Is a patent the only way to project an invention?

No, you could consider protecting different aspects of your product or process using one or more of the following if they apply:

  • Registered deign
  • Registered trade mark
  • Unregistered design right and copyright
  • Secrecy and confidentiality agreements


Can all inventions be patented?

No. An invention can only be patented if it is:

  • New- not already known to the public before the date a patent is applied for;
  • Inventive- not an obvious modification of what is already known; and
  • Capable of industrial application, i.e. can be made or used in any kind of industry.

In other words, your invention must make a technical contribution. This means you can’t for example, patent a business method unless it involves some technical innovation. Inventions relating to computer software may be patentable but only if they involve something more than just software running on a computer in a technically ordinary way.

Other ideas that cannot be patented are:

  • Scientific or mathematical discoveries, theories or methods;
  • Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works;
  • Schemes, rules or methods for performing a mental act; and
  • Methods of medical treatment.

If you’re not sure whether or not your invention is excluded, feel free to contact the IPO office or contact one of our legal services providers specialising in patent law.


How can you check to see if your invention is new?

It can be disheartening and expensive to discover that, after months of effort and investment, your patent application is not allowed because your invention is not new. To avoid this, you should carry out a search through published patents and other documents such as trade catalogues before applying. You can either:

  • Carry out a search yourself- although the results might not be as comprehensive as you might want or
  • Pay an organisation to do a search for you such a patent lawyer or use the IPO’s Search and Advisory Service


How to apply?

Getting an invention patented can be complicated so we recommend that you use a patent lawyer. If you decide to go ahead on your own, the IPO produces two booklets Patents: Essential Reading and Patents: Application Guide and a range of factsheets that should give you the basic information you need

When to apply?

You can apply at any time provided the invention is a secret. Professional advice from a patent lawyer can be helpful because:

  • If an application is made too soon there is a risk that the product may not be fully developed or the market may not be ready for the product; or
  • If the application is delayed, there is a risk that someone else might come up with the same idea and make a patent application themselves. 


Seeking professional advice

The IPO can offer general advice but cannot help prepare a patent application. Professional advice is not strictly necessary but the strength of a patent is affected by how well it has been drafted and patent lawyers will be able to give you both technical and legal advice.


How to make a patent application?

You can access a patent application from the IPO here. For an overview of the application process, see below:

Step 1) Prepare a patent application which includes a written description of your invention and drawings to illustrate your description. You must include you claims (legal statements in single sentences defining your invention) and an abstract (a summary that includes all the technical aspects of your invention).

Step 2) Fill in and file Form1 (Request for grant of a patent) with the IPO together with your patent application.

Step 3) The IPO responds by issuing a filing receipt which includes an application number and confirms the filing date of your application.

Step 4) You fill in and file Form 9A with the IPO together with the appropriate fees, asking for a ‘search’. You must do this by a given date- usually within 12 months of your filing date- to avoid your application being terminated.

Step 5) The IPO will carry out a preliminary examination to make sure your application meets certain formal requirements and search through published patents and other documents to assess whether or not your invention is actually new and inventive. They aim to issue a search report to you within one month of receiving your Form 9A.

Step 6) The IPO will publish your patent application shortly after 18 months from your filing date , as long as you have met the formal requirements, filed Form 9A together with the appropriate fees and not asked them to withdraw your application.

Step 7) You fill in and file Form 10 with the IPO together with the appropriate fee, asking for a ‘substantive examination’ no later than six months after publication to avoid your application being terminated.

Step 8 ) The IPO examine your application, let you know what, if anything, needs to be amended and the period of time you have in which to respond. If your application meets all the requirements of the Patents Act 1977, the IPO will grant your patent, publish your application in its final form and send you a certificate.



A UK patent application must be made to the IPO and it will cost £280. Some fees are reduced if you use their web filing service.  In addition to the IPO fees, if you use a patent lawyer, typical professional fees can be several thousand pounds. Here at Law and Enterprise, we have worked hard to secure you some of the most affordable legal rates exclusive discounts with the patent lawyers in our legal Services Directory.


How long does it take?

From the time an application is filed, the UK patent application usually takes between three and 4 years. There are ways to speed up the process but these may not always be in your best interest.



The owner of the patent is responsible for enforcing his or her right in the event of an infringement. These cases can be complicated and expensive and it is recommended that you seek the advice of a patent lawyer.