Patents

Patents protect inventions.  A granted patent gives its owner the right to go to Court to prevent others working within its scope.  

Patents and patent applications are property.  They can be bought and sold, mortgaged, or given away, just like any other piece of property.  They are as much an article of property of your business as is your computer, your company car or your factory.

A patent protects the output of your Research and Development.  Without patent protection, your innovations are generally free for all to use.  Without protection, you are handing your research to your competitors.

Without patents, your business becomes your competitor’s Research and Development Department.

What sort of thing is patentable?

Amongst many other things:

  • Technical features in a new product that make it better, cheaper, simpler, or easier to manufacture
  • A patentable invention is more than an idea. It is an idea that can be put into practice (but you need not have actually made a prototype).
  • A patentable invention is a technical thing. It is not a mere idea. It is not a purely mental act.
  • A patentable invention might be entirely contained in computer software.
  • An invention can be an improvement. A chair is an example of an improvement of a three-legged stool which might have been patentable once.
  • An invention is something new. Before a patent application has been filed, the public must not have been told about it in any way, anywhere. Otherwise, a valid patent cannot be obtained.

If you want to patent something, keep it confidential until you have a patent application on file!

What does a patent look like?

The main part of a patent is a document (called a specification) that has a description and normally drawings of an example of a thing embodying the invention.   Additionally, the specification includes a definition of the invention.   The specification is a legal document, and must be drafted in accordance with accepted conventions and rules if it is to have the required legal effect.  Drafting specifications is the core skill of a patent attorney.

It is the specification that is the source of the protection, not what the inventor has done.  If a patent’s specification is not right, it will likely be a weak patent.

Who owns patent rights?

The inventor or inventors, unless:

  • If the inventor is employed, the employer owns the rights.
  • If the inventor has agreed to assign rights, then the assignee is the owner.

A person making an invention while working under a freelance contract will normally retain rights to the invention unless the inventor has agreed to assign rights.  An assignment must be supported by a legal assignment document, signed by the inventor.  The ownership of patent rights should be addressed at the inception of any such contract, and should be treated with as much care as any transaction that involved the property of your business.  Act early to keep things simple, otherwise, disputes are likely to occur later.

Other people have rights too!

Ignore other people’s rights at your peril.  If you discovery a relevant patent document after a product has been developed you might have to throw away all of your R&D investment and effort. Therefore, make intellectual property considerations an integral part of your product development cycle.

Taking things further

If you have any questions relating to this or any other aspect of patent law, please feel free to get in touch. I am always happy to offer an initial exploratory discussion with neither cost nor obligation.

For more information on patents relating to inventions involving computer software visit this page