Practical tips on navigating the patent process

Starting your own business isn’t plain sailing. It throws lots of new challenges at us, each with their good, bad and ugly dimensions. And registering a patent is no different.

A lot of inventors with incredible ideas have fallen along the wayside, simply because they didn’t invest the time needed to successfully navigate the patent system.

Make a mistake at this point and you could end up doing all the hard work only for someone else to exploit later down the line. So if you want to protect your business idea or invention, you need to take the patent process seriously.

The good, bad & ugly side of patents

The good side of the patenting process has, in my experience so far, greatly outweighed the bad and the ugly, and there’s every reason to believe it will for you too. However, all three elements exist and either one can define your path if you don’t take precautions to make your patent application water tight at the outset.

I would hazard a guess that most of us, at least during some point in our lives, have wished that one of our ideas might one day lead to us making us a cool £million or two.

Well, as the saying goes, “be careful what you wish for,” because I’ve had my wish come true, and it’s anything but easy.

Believe me, if I hadn’t approached the patenting process with an incredibly defined strategy within the first 12 months, my invention would almost certainly have become one of the 4,999 out of every 5,000 that fail to monetise.

Quite simply those dismal statistics tell us that only a very small percentage of inventors experience the good, whilst the majority either run out of money, or enthusiasm to continue and end up losing their patent (the bad) – or finish up fending off the “copy cats” and in some cases experience getting drawn into expensive litigation cases (the ugly).

Can you patent your idea?

If you are in the exciting situation of being on the cusp of something amazing because you have a great idea, but don’t know what to do next, or might be afraid that someone might exploit it, read on, I think my advice will help you navigate your way through the patenting process.

Firstly though, to qualify for patent protection your idea must fulfil the following criteria;

1. Has to be new, that hasn’t been disclosed anywhere before

2. It must include an inventive step, which means it mustn’t be an obvious development of existing technology

3. Must have commercial value, so what you create must sell, or be part of something that will be sold

Keep everything you do secret

If you do register a company name, or not, I would advise that you don’t go around telling people, in fact you must be secretive about everything you do, particularly where your invention is concerned, at least during the tentative early stages.

Why? If for example you send an email out to someone disclosing information about your invention before your patent application is registered, it will be out there in the public domain.

Lawyers are paid a lot of money to dig up information to prove that prior art documentation already existed so their client can legally produce your product. An impending law suit might even result in your invention being invalidated, this really does happen quite a lot, so be vigilant.

Do your own initial researchPractical tips on registering a UK patent

Before you even apply for a patent you can save yourself a lot of time, money and potential heartbreak by carrying out your own early search, including via the Espacenet website, to see if there is any other conflicting patent in existence.

And if there is, you can stop there and then to avoid the expense of going through with your patent application.

Find a good patent agent

My philosophy and one of the keys to my own success is if you don’t know how to do something yourself, find someone who does, and then learn from them.

Applying for a patent is just one of those areas that is daunting, some inventors do it themselves, but I’m not one of them – I would never risk saving money short term in order to cut a corner and risk someone finding a loophole later because of something I missed.

You may have to pay anything from £3,000 – £6,000 to go through the patent process and search, that isn’t cheap, however, I pour every piece of knowledge I can muster into assisting my patent agent to put together a water tight document, so every base is covered, and it is crucial that you do the same.

Include the background details of;

  • Why you came up with your idea,
  • What problems it solves, (my list is almost endless),
  • How different it is from other solutions in the market segment,
  • What the features are,
  • How much time it will save your customers and so on.

The hard work you put in at the beginning will increase your chances of your patent holding up for the full 20 years, do it poorly and you are more likely to realise first-hand how expensive the patent game really can be.

Beating the 12 month patent clock is key to everything

Once your idea has patent-pending status, and providing your patent search indicates there is nothing similar out there, your next patent expense will come 12 months later if you choose to protect your IP in other countries, and this can cost you several thousands of pounds more.

So with this in mind I’ve saved my best piece of advice until last, simply because most inventors just don’t do it, and it is this;

Unless you have access to finance, you need to sell enough of your products within the 1-year patent time frame to cover the extra costs of the international stages of patenting.

If you don’t have the funds to do this, things can get very ugly.

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Graham Harris, founder and Managing Director of Tech-ni-Fold Ltd and Creasestream LLP, global leaders in print creasing technology. His invention has saved customers over £8billion to date. His book Against the Grain is available now on Amazon.

Last updated: 13th March, 2021

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