Home > Frequently asked questions

Patents

What is a patent?
Patents protect inventions. A patent gives the patentee (the owner) the right to stop others exploiting the invention for a set period of time, usually 20 years.

Why is patent protection important?
Everyone needs to protect precious business assets. Having a patent can do just that. A patent deters competitors from copying a product or process. It can provide an important commercial advantage – whether preventing competitors encroaching on a market or allowing you time to profit from your research and development expenditure. A patent gives other commercial benefits as well. A patentee can licence an existing patent, receiving royalties in return; a patent can even be used as security to raise a loan.

What can be patented?
A patentable invention can relate to a product or system, a method or process, or even a fresh use for a known product. The invention must be new and not obvious, compared to what is previously known. Critically, the patent needs to be filed before the invention is disclosed publically.

How do I obtain a patent?
Patents are registered rights. To obtain a patent in the UK an application is submitted to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO). An application for a patent can be a complex document. It will require a detailed description of the invention and a set of legal claims defining the protection sought. The exact form of the claims is essential in ensuring that the eventual patent is robust and commercially valuable. The IPO will conduct a search to verify if the invention is new and inventive. If successful, the IPO will grant a UK patent. Overseas protection also needs to be considered. For European protection it is possible to file a single application at the European Patent Office. Similarly, the Patent Cooperation Treaty enables an applicant to file a single international application designating a number of countries around the world. The international application can then be converted into national applications by later filing in the countries where protection is ultimately required.

How can a patent be enforced?
This varies from country to country but generally a patent is enforced by bringing legal proceedings in a court of law. Success can result in an injunction to stop further infringement and possibly damages.

Designs

What is a design?
A design is all about the look. It protects the visual appearance of a product rather than how it is built or operates. It can refer to an overall product or an element of that product.

Why is design protection important?
How something looks greatly influences what consumers think of a product so it’s a valuable asset that should be protected.

Why should I register a design?
Registering a design gives legal rights. It means other businesses cannot make or sell products with the same design applied to them. Protection can last for up to 25 years. Creating new designs can also lead to unregistered design rights. However, these rights are more difficult to enforce and have a much shorter duration than registered design rights.

What designs can be registered?
A design must be novel. It must also have ‘individual character’, which means that the impression produced by the design on the viewer must be sufficiently different from that created by previous publicly available designs. A design can relate to an almost unending list of products – not just products commonly thought of. For example, new typefaces, computer icons and industrial machine components are all registrable.

How do I register a design?
In the UK a design is registered by filing an application with the UK Intellectual Property Office. A very popular alternative is to register a Community Design at the Community Design Office which covers the whole of the European Union with a single filing. In both cases, the application will require drawings, photographs or specimens of the design.

How can a design right be enforced?
This can vary from country to country but generally design rights are enforced through the courts. The courts are usually empowered to grant an injunction to stop infringing acts as well as awarding damages if applicable.

Trade Marks

What is a Trade Mark?
Typically a Trade Mark is a distinctive sign used to show a service or product’s unique origin. They are part of everyday life and come in all shapes and sizes: symbols, words, names, logos, even smells or sounds. Put simply, they distinguish a product or service from the competition.

Why are Trade Marks important?
They are valuable commercial assets. They can very clearly affect a company’s bottom line.

Why should I register a Trade Mark?
Registering a Trade Mark gives legal rights. It means that other businesses cannot use or register the same or similar marks. If a Trade Mark isn’t registered, rights can be obtained through use. These common law rights do not offer the same protection. They are not a guarantee that a competitor cannot register or enforce a similar Trade Mark.

What should I do before I choose a Trade Mark?
You need to find out if anyone else is using the Trade Mark because they will have ownership rights which affects its use. The procedure is called a clearance search and involves searching and identifying existing Trade Mark applications and registrations in the UK and throughout the world.

How do I get a Trade Mark registered in the UK?
A Trade Mark application is completed and filed with the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO). The IPO examine the application. If they identify similarities with earlier applications, they will notify those that hold Trade Mark rights. If no objections are raised the application is published in the Official Trade Marks Journal. The IPO monitor the situation for two months and if unchallenged the Trade Mark will be registered and a Registration Certificate is issued which will last for 10 years.

How do I register a Trade Mark outside the UK?
Trade Mark registration systems differ between countries: some have individual systems whereas others group together under umbrella systems such as:

Whatever the registration system, there are similarities with the UK registration procedure. Applications must be filed, conflicts identified, opportunities to contest are given and if a registration is certified, it has a shelf life of 10 years.

How do I enforce a Trade Mark registration?
Legal proceedings are necessary. You will seek to bring about an injunction to prevent infringement of your Trade Mark rights or even damages if your rights have been infringed significantly. If counterfeiting has taken place criminal law can be used to pursue your claim by using Customs, the Trading Standards Office or even the Police.