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Patents

Written by Ben Evans on 29 October 2010

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A Patent is a legal monopoly giving an inventor (or his employer) the exclusive right to make, sell, import or otherwise use his invention. Patents are territorial and the present procedures sheet relates to UK Patents.

To be patentable in the UK, the invention must be new at the date of filing a UK Patent application. This means that the invention must not have been made available to the public by the inventor or any other party. It is therefore important to consider whether a UK patent application should be filed before going to market or otherwise publishing the invention.

The procedure for securing grant of a Patent in the UK can be broadly divided into four stages - filing, search, publication and prosecution.

The first stage is to file a Patent application at the UK Patent Office consisting of at least a description of the invention and drawings (if appropriate). Filing a Patent application in the UK generates a “UK filing date” from which runs a “priority year”. On or before the first anniversary of the UK filing date, further action must be taken to keep the application alive. If Patent protection abroad is required, this would normally be applied for on or before the first anniversary of the UK filing date and further details are given on our procedures section entitled “Foreign Patents”.

During the priority year, the UK Patent Office makes no examination of the application until such time as a “Search Request” is filed (and a search fee paid) together with Patent Claims and an Abstract. This may be done at the time of filing the application (typically increasing the initial cost by 50-100 %) but must be done on or before the first anniversary of the UK filing date. In some cases, it is advisable to file the Search Request on filing the application.

If there are any improvements or modifications to the invention during the priority year, these may be included in a second UK Patent application. The second UK Patent application claims priority from the first UK Patent application and is entitled to the UK filing date of the first UK Patent application for subject matter which is common to both applications.

After a Search Request has been filed and the search fee paid, a Search Examiner at the UK Patent Office conducts a search through previously published Patent Specifications and a limited range of other literature to identify published documents which may be relevant to the patentability of the invention. A search report listing these documents is sent to the applicant (together with a copy of the documents) about three months after the Search Request has been filed. The search report may be used to assess the prospect of the Patent application being granted.

Approximately eighteen months after the UK filing date, the Patent application is published together with the search report. If the search report was favourable and the prospect of securing a granted Patent seems good, the applicant may decide to proceed to “prosecution”.

Within six months of the date of publication of the application an “Examination Request” must be filed and an examination fee paid.

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