If you decide to apply for a patent, the first step in the process is the preparation of a specification. This document describes the invention in detail, explaining exactly what it is and how it works. Often drawings are included to show the features of the invention. The specification also includes a set of claims which define the particular combination of technical features that constitute your invention and that you want to protect. More information can be found in our note “What is a patent specification?”
Filing the application
When the specification and appropriate application forms are filed at the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) a filing receipt is immediately issued, confirming the filing date and giving a patent application number to identify the case. You can now identify your invention as patent pending.
It is also necessary to submit filing, search and examination fees to the UKIPO. Although payment of these fees can be deferred for certain periods, normally at least the filing fee and the search fee are paid when the application is first submitted.
Payment of the filing fee enables the UKIPO to check the application documents and issue a Preliminary Examination Report noting the deadlines for filing any further documents or paying any remaining fees.
Search and Examination
If the search fee is paid upon filing, a Search Report will be issued by the UKIPO within about six months from the filing date. This will list any documents identified by the Examiner which are relevant to deciding whether your invention meets the requirements of novelty and inventive step.
If the examination fee has also been paid at the same time as the search fee, then a Combined Search and Examination Report will be issued. This will include the Search Report listing any documents identified and also provide more detailed comments from the Examiner, in particular concerning whether the invention set out in the claims of your specification is considered to be novel and inventive.
The results of the Search Report, or the Combined Search and Examination Report, will allow you to gauge the prospects for obtaining a granted patent for your invention before you decide whether to apply for corresponding patent applications in other countries around the world. If so, any applications abroad must be filed no later than twelve months after your filing date.
Initially, the patent application is confidential but providing all the necessary forms and fees have been submitted by the relevant deadlines, it will be published by the UKIPO approximately 18 months after the filing date.
If the examination fee has not already been paid, it must now be paid no later than six months after the publication date. If the examination fee is paid later than the search fee in this way, there may be a considerable delay before the UKIPO issues the Examination Report.
Continued Examination and Grant
Whether a Combined Search and Examination Report or a separate Examination Report is issued, the report will set a deadline for responding to the objections raised by the Examiner. Within that deadline you can submit comments in response to the objections and make amendments to the application. It is important to note, however, that you cannot add any new information into the patent application at this stage.
The Examiner will re-examine the application, taking account of your comments and amendments. If some objections still remain another report will be issued and you can make further comments and amendments. There may be several rounds of correspondence with the Examiner in this way until all of the objections have been overcome. At that stage, the patent is accepted for grant and on the grant date it will be re-published as a patent.
After grant, renewal fees are payable each year in order to keep the patent in force. The maximum life of a patent is 20 years from the original filing date.