Guidance

Before you apply for a patent

You should consider whether a patent is right for your invention. They are the most difficult form of IP to get and are expensive to enforce.

To get the most benefit from a patent, you need a business plan for making money from it. If only a few people will buy your invention, the cost of getting and keeping a granted patent could be more than the money you will make.

You also need to ensure you have the finances available to defend it against copying.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) can’t help you enforce your patent. It is your responsibility to do this and ensure it is properly protected. Any legal action you take will need to be started by and funded by you.

IP BASICS: Should I get a patent?

Not all patents have a financial value

A 2005 study suggested that over half the value of all patents, lies in less than 1% of patents. The more valuable patents are likely to be found in the biochemistry and pharmaceutical industry.

You need to be sure that the potential for making a profit outweighs the time, effort and money it takes to get and maintain a patent. You also need to make sure that the protection a patent offers would help prevent copying in the markets you are interested in.

Don’t try to patent an invention that isn’t new

Before wasting large amounts of time and money, search patent databases and the internet. This will help you decide if someone else has already made your invention.

It is also possible that after the grant of a patent, some proof may be found that shows your invention was already known (known as ‘prior art’). If this happens, your patent will be invalid.

Speak to an Intellectual Property (IP) professional

Your chances of obtaining a useful patent are much greater if you use a patent attorney. They will use their specialist skills to draft the application properly.

The Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (CIPA) can help you locate an attorney in your area.

As with most legal assistance, patent attorneys charge for their services. However, many provide the first consultation free of charge.

CIPA also hold regular IP clinics at locations around the UK. These give you the chance to receive free basic advice from a patent attorney.

Other ways of protecting your invention

The IPO will publish your patent application 18 months after you file it if all formal requirements have been met. But, it can take several years before a patent is granted.

In this time others may find ways to work around your patent or launch a similar product. So, you should consider whether other types of IP protection may be better.

You could be the first to take your product to market, and build a strong brand through a registered trade mark. This is a faster, cheaper process and easier to enforce.

If the invention’s appearance (rather than how it works) is important, then a registered design may be more appropriate.

Even if you can patent your invention, keeping a trade secret via confidentiality agreements can sometimes be a better strategy.

The benefit of a trade secret is that it can exist for as long as the information remains confidential, whereas a patent has a limited life span.

This is a good strategy if the product is difficult to reverse engineer (difficult to find out exactly how it is manufactured).

If your product has a short market life, you could keep it secret whilst developing it. You can then launch with a strong marketing strategy and brand. Others could copy your invention, but:

  • you will be the brand leader
  • if the market life is short, you may already be moving on to your next product, staying one step ahead of the competition
Published 5 February 2015
Last updated 22 February 2016 + show all updates
  1. Video added to guide 'IP BASICS: Should I get a patent?'.
  2. First published.