The number of patent filings is increasing across the globe. If you are in the business of developing new products or processes, it's worth checking if earlier patents exist.
If your invention is already taken and someone has protected a similar product or process, you can either seek permission to use their patent, license it or buy it outright.
How do you find out if a patent already exists?
There are two main ways you can search for a patent. You could hire a patent attorney to run a patent search for you, or you could carry out the search yourself.
If you choose to do your own patent search, you will likely save some money but it will involve significant time and effort on your part. Searching will also require a bit of expertise, as you may need to navigate different patent registers, databases and online journals.
See how to search for existing patents.
Get permission to use a patent
If you want to use someone else's patent, you will usually need their permission. If they don't authorise your use, you may be infringing the patent and the owner may take action and claim damages against you. For more information, see patent infringement.
How to buy patents
It is sometimes possible to buy a patent outright. If you wish to buy a patent, you will have to identify its legal owner and make them an offer. If a business owns the patent, you can negotiate to buy the company and acquire the patent that way.
After you reach a deal, the patent owner has to transfer ownership to you to give you the rights, title and interest in their patent. You will need a written document to record the transfer with the Intellectual Property Office. This is known as an 'assignment' and must be signed by the person selling the patent.
How to license a patent
If you wish to use or sell a patented invention or a product, you don't have to buy the patent outright. You could negotiate a licensing deal instead. Some patents have a 'licence of right', meaning that anyone can licence that patent. Find patents endorsed as licence of right.
For patents not endorsed licence of right, you will need to contact the patent owner and agree a licence with them. The terms are a matter of negotiation. You should record the terms in a written contract between you and the patent owner. This is known as a licensing agreement. See more on patent licensing and agreements in how to license a patent.
Before deciding to license a patent, you should consider the various advantages and disadvantages of licensing patents.