What is a patent?

A patent is a right granted by a government to an inventor (or inventors) in order to protect their inventions from being copied.

If you’ve invented a new product, for example, a granted patent enables you to prevent competitors from producing and selling identical copies of your product, as well as similar products that employ the same inventive concept.  Essentially, it can be used to prevent third parties from taking advantage of your invention without your permission.  Like most things in life, however, patents are not granted for free.  First, you must apply for the patent via an official body such as the UK Intellectual Property Office, the European Patent Office or the US Patent & Trademark Office.  This involves drafting and filing an application that describes your invention in detail.  The application is then examined by the Office, and only granted if it meets certain criteria – in particular, that it is new and not obvious in the light of known ideas.  

This can be a long and complicated process, and it is not one we recommend you undertake on your own: failure to meet any one of many deadlines can result in the application being deemed abandoned, and a poorly drafted application can render any patent subsequently granted useless.  There are many pitfalls for the inexperienced!  Once granted, the patent can be kept in force for up to 20 years – potentially giving you a competitive edge in your industry for a generation.

(Provided by Chris Hall, a colleague at Fry Heath Spence)
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