Patents step by step
A step by step guide to the patent process from idea to a granted patent.
All businesses and inventions start with an idea. Intellectual property rights like patents are the expression of that idea.
There are several reasons why you shouldn’t file a patent application. Depending on the type of invention other types of Intellectual Property (IP) protection may be better.
Find out more about patents before you apply.
Research: does it already exist?
Your invention must be novel. This means it must never have been made public in any way, anywhere in the world, before the date your professional IP advisor files your patent application.
You’ll probably be surprised how many inventions already exist, even though you have never seen or heard of them. Most patent applications filed around the world every year fail to be granted, normally because a similar invention has been published before.
To avoid wasting time, effort and money you should carry out a search through published patents and other documents such as trade catalogues before thinking about applying.
Firstly, you should do an internet search, if you don’t find your idea, you should then look in databases of published patents then trade booklets and catalogues. Or you could pay a patent attorney or other professional IP advisor to do a search for you.
This will also help prevent you from unknowingly infringing another person’s patent rights.
The most common mistake made by inventors is to reveal their invention before applying for a patent. If you have made your invention public, you could lose the possibility of being granted a patent.
This could be by talking to people, giving a demonstration, taking out an advert, or being featured in article in a newspaper or magazine, or in any other way.
If you need to talk to someone before you apply, such as a potential business partner or manufacturer, you should ask them to sign a confidentiality agreement first. This means they have to treat what you tell them in confidence. A solicitor or patent attorney can prepare this type of agreement for you.
Any conversation you have with a patent attorney or solicitor is confidential, so anything you say will not count as revealing your invention early.
During the application process, you may be contacted by invention promotion companies. If you are, be very careful what you agree to.
Seek professional advice
Getting a patent is not a guarantee of business success. Deciding whether to apply for a patent should form part of your business planning.
File with the IPO
Your professional IP advisor prepares a patent application which includes:
- a written description of your invention: allowing others to see how it works and how it could be made
- drawings: to illustrate your description
- claims: precise legal statements in the form of single sentences that define your invention by setting out its distinctive technical features
- an abstract: a summary that includes all the important technical aspects of your invention
Your professional IP advisor will then fill in and file Form 1 ‘Request for grant of a patent’ with the IPO, together with one copy of your patent application.
If you or anyone else applying are not the inventor, you will need to fill in Form 7 ‘Statement of inventorship and of right to grant of a patent’ and tell us why you have the right to be granted a patent. This form can be filed up to 16 months after your ‘filing date’ or priority date, if there is one.
It is possible to apply for a patent without using a professional representative, but it is not recommended. A patent specification is a legal document and requires specialist skills to draft properly. Your chances of obtaining a useful patent are significantly greater if you use an attorney.
The IPO responds by issuing a filing receipt which includes an application number and confirms the filing date of your application.
Patents are territorial rights and a UK patent only gives you protection within the UK.
As long as you file any foreign applications within 12 months of your UK ‘priority date’ (the filing date of your original UK application for the same invention), you can ask for each foreign application to be given the same ‘priority date’. This is important because if two patent applications claiming the same invention are filed in the same country on different dates, the patent will be awarded to the one with the earlier ‘priority date’.
If priority is not claimed as set out in the above paragraph, you need to make sure that your foreign applications are filed before your UK application is first published (about 18 months after your original UK filing date). If you miss this deadline, your invention will be in the public domain and any foreign applications you make could be invalidated.
Your professional IP advisor can advise you on the best strategy for protecting your IP abroad.
Your professional IP advisor files Form 9A with the IPO, together with the appropriate fees, asking for a search. This must be done by a given date, usually within 12 months of your filing date, to avoid your application being terminated.
Your professional IP advisor will also need to pay the application fee by the given date.
If your application includes a declaration of priority, the deadline for filing Form 9A is 2 months from your filing date or 12 months from your priority date, whichever is later.
Once your professional IP advisor has paid your application fee we carry out a preliminary examination to make sure your application meets certain formal requirements.
After a search has been requested an examiner will search through published patents and other documents for material against which we can assess whether or not the invention you have claimed is new and inventive. We aim to issue our search report to your professional IP advisor within six months of receiving your Form 9A.
The IPO will publish your patent application shortly after 18 months from your filing date (or priority date if there is one), as long as you have met the formal requirements, filed Form 9A together with the appropriate fees and not asked us to withdraw your application.
If you apply without using a patent attorney or other professional IP advisor your application details, including your name and address, will appear on our records. They will also appear in the publication of your application, once all formal requirements are met. Both our records and the Patents Journal are open to the public on our website, which can be permanently searched using most standard search engines. All correspondence between us will be open to public inspection, including on our website, once your application is published.
If you do not want your home address published, please give us a different permanent address or a PO Box number where you can be contacted and where you can receive correspondence.
Invention promotion companies may contact you after your application has been published. Some invention promotion companies are unscrupulous, be very careful what you agree to.
Your professional IP advisor fills in and files Form 10 at 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.
The IPO will examine your application and will let your professional IP advisor know if anything needs to be amended and how long you have 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.
After your patent is granted
The IPO does not enforce patents or sort out any problems relating to infringement. If you suspect that someone is infringing your patent rights, it is up to you to take appropriate action. However, we would strongly recommend you get legal advice before making any contact with the alleged infringer.
Once your patent is granted, you will need to pay renewal fees every year to keep it in force so that protection continues. The amount you pay increases every year your patent is ‘live’. This is to avoid placing too much of a financial burden on you in the early life of your patent when you are likely to have other costs.