Patent Law is Not as Simple as it Sounds
Any great invention needs to be protected against imitation. Just how easy is it to get a patent?
This is the age of the entrepreneur, and as anyone who has watched The Apprentice or Dragon’s Den on TV will know, there is certainly no shortage of enthusiastic business people out there with great ideas.
Of course, one person’s definition of a great idea is not always shared by others, and this is often what makes shows like these so compelling. But one thing is for sure. On Dragon’s Den in particular, if the Dragons are impressed with someone’s invention, there is one question that they ask before they even get to the finances. Have you taken out a patent on it?
For those of us sitting in our armchairs, it is easy to shake our heads at the foolishness of those who sheepishly reply that they have not. How could they have been so silly? But put yourself if their shoes for a moment. Would you even know where to go for patent advice in Essex, London or the home counties? Let’s take a first principles look at the world of patents.
Intellectual property is defined as something unique that you have physically created. It needs to have some tangible form – for example, if you’ve come up with a great idea for a book, you cannot treat it as intellectual property. But if you have written it in draft form, then you can.
You can claim ownership of intellectual property if you have either created it yourself or purchased it from someone else. Intellectual property can have more than one owner, and can be transferred from one person to another.
A patent is a way to protect a physical invention from imitation, use, sale, import or export without your permission. Note that patents only apply to tangible articles. You cannot patent a work of art, a business process or a method of presenting information, for example.
Patents are absolutely vital if you have created something truly unique and valuable. In the early 1900s, Charles Augustus Fey invented the first slot machine. Americans loved it, and he should have become an overnight millionaire. Unfortunately, he did not patent it, and within months, variations of his invention were being manufactured all across the States.
Obtaining a Patent
From our armchair perspective we might ask how Fey could have made such a schoolboy error. It is not simply a case of him forgetting, any more than it is with those Dragon’s Den hopefuls. The truth is that patents are complex to obtain and can also be expensive. The patent office receives thousands of applications, and a shocking 19 out of every 20 that is prepared without professional help gets turned down.
When you take into consideration that a patent can cost in the region of £4,000, you begin to realise that there is more to it than just “going to the patent office and getting a patent.”
The moral of the story is clear. Don’t make Charles Augustus Fey’s mistake. Get professional assistance, and make sure your patent is water tight to ensure your invention does not become somebody else’s.