SIUConversations Oxford: Intellectual Property: Protecting Ideas and Why Your IP Strategy Matters

The SIU team with Philip Webber at the first SIUConversations session of the Oxford series 

The SIU team with Philip Webber at the first SIUConversations session of the Oxford series 

Author: Luke Harland, Edited by: Burcu Anil Kirmizitas

 Why is it important to patent your invention?

In a world full of ingenious human beings, patents are required to protect ideas and spur on innovation. Without them individuals and businesses would be ill-equipped to recuperate the substantial research costs associated with the development of new technologies and medicines. If patents didn’t exist who would be willing to produce a new drug?  Pharmaceutical companies spend billions of dollars on average to get a drug to market. Patents protect these companies from competitors deconstructing their drug’s magic formula and selling it at a reduced price. Without patents you wouldn’t have new medicines and human innovation would be stifled as scientists and engineers would no longer reap the rewards of their bright ideas.

Different Types of IP

Intellectual property is intangible property resulting from creativity. It is something unique that you physically create and it can be owned by multiple individuals. There are different types of IP and it is important to have procured the correct form of IP protection in order to prevent fraud and copying.

  • Copyright

Covers things you’ve made, protects original work and is automatic as no registration is required. Infringement occurs when someone copies the original work. Examples include: writing and literary works, art, photography, films, TV, music, web content, sound recordings.

  • Trademark

Trademarks are often signs that distinguish goods and services including distinctive words, numbers and design shapes. Trademarks may be registered at a patent office or unregistered and trademarks last indefinitely. Examples include: product names, logos, jingles.

  • Patents           

Patents protect inventions and give the inventor the right to take legal action against anyone who makes, uses, sells or imports the invention without their permission. The patent is filed by a patent attorney at a patent office in a document that captures the invention in words. Patent offices exist all over the globe and it is important that the inventor files for patents in each of the countries in which they’d like protection.

What can I do with my patent?

It’s not so much about what you can do with your patent but rather what others can’t do when you act on your rights as a patent holder. Patents confer a right to the inventor to prevent others from making, using, selling or importing a product that infringes their patent. Sometimes it is difficult to determine whether a competing product infringes upon an existing patent, at this point the patent courts of a country are utilised and they decide whether or not a patent has been infringed upon.

The Role of a Patent Attorney

Patent attorneys have to wear multiple hats whilst performing their day to day job. They often have backgrounds in science or engineering as it is extremely important that they understand the invention they are aiming to protect. They also need to be well versed in the laws of the country in which they are practicing. They demonstrate proficiency by successfully passing multiple examinations in patent law. Finally, patent lawyers require excellent communication skills as they often present to upper management within large companies.  

The Anatomy of a Patent

So what exactly does a patent look like? What is a patent made up of? A patent application contains four main parts: the front page, a description, claims and drawings. The front page of a patent includes bibliographic information, an abstract and often a drawing of the invention. The inventors have a right to be named on the front page of the patent. The second section, the description, defines the invention and provides background information about the invention. Furthermore, it provides information regarding the invention’s preferred features and it gives examples of the invention. The third part of the patent, the claims section, is the most important. Claims define explicitly in words the scope of the invention and patent attorneys must choose their words carefully. Broad terms are often used so that the invention is fully covered so that someone can’t come along and produce a very similar product with a slight modification that the patent would not cover. Finally, the patent includes drawings of examples of the invention to supplement the words used to describe the invention in the previous sections.   

How to get a Patent

What kinds of ideas are patentable? An invention must be both novel and inventive for it to be patentable. Article 54 of the European Patent Convention states that, “the invention must be new over everything in the public domain”. Therefore, you must keep your invention confidential until you file your patent application. If, for example, you were to present your invention on a poster at a conference it would no longer be patentable as it would now be placed in the public domain and when you file for a patent with those ideas (outlined in the poster) you would no longer be filing a novel invention. If you have prepared a manuscript that outlines your invention, you must first file for a patent before publishing the manuscript.

Publishing and patenting can go hand-in-hand, according to Dr. Webber. Patent attorneys can write a patent application in 2-3 weeks if necessary. For an invention to be patentable it needs to not only be novel, but also inventive for it to get patented. An invention is inventive if it is not obvious to an individual working within the specific field. Whether something is obvious is often not an easy question to answer and it is at this point that the patent attorney must produce a solid argument to show that the idea was not obvious. Finally, you must also show that you can indeed produce the invention you propose and you must describe how it can be put into practice. It’s good and dandy to invent a rocket ship that can fly five times faster than the speed of light, but you must prove to the patent officer that you can indeed produce such a rocket ship.       

Getting Patents Granted in other Countries

Dr. Webber completed his talk discussing the process of procuring patents in foreign countries. There are three necessary phases for procurement of patents in foreign countries. In the first phase a priority application is filed in the primary country in which you would like to obtain a patent. The priority application can take up to 12 months and usually costs between 2 to 6 thousand pounds. The second phase of the patent procurement process is the international phase. In the international phase a patent application is filed involving an international examination report and an international search. This phase typically results in publication of the patent after 18 months and at this time all the modifications and changes must be incorporated into the patent. The final phase is referred to as the national phase and typically requires 30 months. At this stage patents are procured in all other countries. This is the most important stage of patent procurement and it typically costs 2-3 thousand pounds.  

In the end, you never know how much your patent is going to cost and you don’t know if it’s going to sail through the process. There is no guarantee that you will get a patent granted after all this trouble. But patents are important, they drive innovation and provide inventors with the security they require to be assured that they will reap the rewards of their diligence and ingenious ideas. It’s important to think long and hard about what IP protection your company requires before diving headfirst into a business venture.   

SIUConversations attendees during the networking session with Philip Webber

SIUConversations attendees during the networking session with Philip Webber