Patents and licensing

Q: I have a great idea. How do I go about getting it licensed, produced and getting a patent for it?

A: The first point to bear in mind, if you believe you have made a patentable invention, is never to disclose the invention to anyone unless they have signed a confidentiality agreement. That is a contract between the inventor and anyone to whom it is necessary to disclose the idea to ensure they will not attempt to exploit or use the invention without consent.

Application for a patent requires the submission to the UK Intellectual Property Office of a patent specification. This comprises a complete description of the invention and must attach any drawings to which the description refers. The inventor then has 12 months to file his claims – these are concise statements defining the invention. He must also file an abstract - that is a summary of the invention setting out its features. It is also necessary to search whether any similar inventions have been filed previously, since these would invalidate the application.

If all goes well the IPO will publish the application and it will be “examined” for validity. After the patent is granted the inventor can set about exploiting the patent himself or licensing it. Licensing involves a formal agreement granting the right for a set period to manufacture and sell the product the subject of the invention, in return for a royalty. Licences can be exclusive, ie limited to one party, or non exclusive where the invention is licensed to multiple licensees.

Confidentiality, patent filing and licensing can be a minefield for the unwary. Absent substantial experience in this field it pays to consult a commercial lawyer or patent agent at the earliest stage.

Tony Catterall, partner, Taylors


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