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Patents include trademarks, copyright, industrial designs and trade secrets

As Stuart Newbold from Patent Search and Information Management explains, when ‘Intellectual Property’ (IP) is mentioned, most people immediately think of IP rights as protecting artistic works such as music, books, films and the like. But Intellectual Property is much broader, and within the business and commercial environment IP includes patents, trademarks, industrial designs, copyright and even trade secrets.

These IP rights can be used to protect a company’s brands and products from being used, copied, made or sold in a place where the IP right exists, without the prior permission of the right holder. As such these rights can be extremely valuable, and importantly can give the rights holders a clear competitive advantage over others working in their field.

What it means to hold a UK patent

The granting of a UK patent gives the owner an exclusive right to manufacture, sell or offer for sale that product (or sometimes part of that product) in the UK, whilst the patent remains ‘in-force’ (a term of up to 20 years, providing fees are maintained). Others wishing to use the invention are either excluded from doing so, or will need to obtain a licence from the patent owner in order to do so (or may even purchase the patent right itself). In this way IP rights provide commercial value , and form part of a company’s assets, so it is important to manage your IP and the information surrounding the innovations and know-how embedded in them.  Many companies also use registered and un-registered trademarks to build awareness of their products in the market place. It is widely accepted that these various IP rights not only benefit inventors and industry, but act as a spur for creativity (including in the arts) and further innovation, creating jobs, growth, and new products for society from new smartphones to medicines.

The Process

The first step in securing an IP right such as a patent or a trademark is to file an application at an Intellectual Property Office (before you have actually filed the application it is important to keep the innovation secret). A registered patent attorney is usually the best person to help you with drafting and filing a patent application. With over 2 million patent applications applied for each year around the world, it makes sense to carry out some patent searches at an early stage to verify that your invention is new (novel) and to help shape what goes into the patent application itself.

No patent application will be granted if the invention has been ‘disclosed’ (published) previously – whether in a patent, published literature, journal articles or technical documents. The invention must be novel. The application will also be rejected by the examining patent office due to an earlier publication which renders the invention as being obvious. There must be an inventive-step. These are all necessary hurdles and help to ensure the invention will succeed in progressing through the application process in order to become a granted patent, whilst also ensuring that only new inventions are rewarded and existing rights holders are not infringed.

The description of the invention adds to the scientific and technical knowledge in the area, and helps others to learn. This, at its heart, is part of the bargain between the inventor and the state.  Registering a trademark is a much simpler process, as only novelty, in an economic sector is required. Again searching should be carried out prior to filing the trademark application, which is then published, and other companies (third parties) have 6 months to oppose the mark if they feel it is too close to an existing mark. Trademarks can be kept ‘alive’ for every 10 years, upon payment of fees. There are also procedures for obtaining IPRs internationally.

Spreading the word about patents

Recognising the need to spread the word on using IP for business, particularly for the technology SME community around Cambridge, the Cambridge Information and Intellectual Property Meeting (CIIPM) was founded by Jane List of Extract Information and Stuart Newbold of Patent Search and Information Management in 2015. The first CIIPM meeting took place in July 2016, and the CIIPM annual meeting provides an opportunity for knowledge sharing for those interested in the commercialisation of technologies using IP, and in using information to make legal and commercial decisions. Each July meeting offers an afternoon of talks and discussions, with a small exhibition and networking opportunities with like-minded people.

Importantly, though, CIIPM now provides half-day training courses designed to increase understanding of IP and how to go about commercialising ideas and inventions by managing your IP and using information to learn about your competitive market place. These training courses take place at Homerton College Conference Centre in Cambridge, and are supported by the UK Intellectual Property Office (UK IPO) and providers of secure commercial databases which help us to navigate the vast body of patent and related intellectual property information. CIIPM can also provide in-house training courses. (http://www.extractinfo.info/ciipm/training/).

Wish to know more

For those wishing to know more right away, there is a wealth of information available on the web, and a good place to start is the UK IPO itself. There are forms where questions can be asked as well as contact telephone numbers for advice. See https://www.gov.uk/browse/business/intellectual-property. More locally, bespoke advice and assistance is available from both Jane and Stuart, who both live in the Cambridge area. 

Stuart Newbold – www.psandim.com

Jane List – www.extractinfo.info

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