To apply for a patent, you must be the legal owner of your invention. If you created it as part of your work as an employee, you are unlikely to be the legal owner.
What can be patented?
To be eligible for a patent, an invention must be:
- New - your invention must not have been made public before you apply for a patent. This means secrecy is essential when you are developing your idea. See non-disclosure agreements.
- Inventive - meaning the idea wouldn't be an obvious development to someone with a good knowledge of the field.
- Industrially applicable, ie capable of being made or used in some kind of industry. You can't get a patent for a theory or an idea, a discovery, an artistic work or an animal or plant variety, though there may be other ways to protect this intellectual property. See protecting intellectual property.
See also what is a patent.
What cannot be patented?
Certain things are not open to patent protection. For example, you can't patent:
- literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works
- a discovery, scientific theory or mathematical method
- a procedure of medical treatment or diagnosis
- a rule or method of playing a game or thinking
- a presentation of information
- some computer programs or mobile apps
- 'essentially biological' processes like crossing-breeding plants
Finally, you won't be able to get a patent for any idea or invention that isn't novel. You may want to research the market and look through the patent databases to determine if someone has claimed this idea before. See how to search for existing patents.
Should you get a patent for your idea?
The fact that you may be able to get a patent doesn't necessarily make patent protection worthwhile. It's important to understand that not all patents have financial value or the potential for making a profit.
To get the most from your patent, think carefully how you plan to make money from it. You may want to develop a business plan and work out if the costs of getting and keeping a patent could be more than the money you will make.
You will also need to factor in the possibility of having to defend your patent against copying in the markets you're interested in, which can be costly. You should carefully consider all the advantages and disadvantages of getting a patent.
Even if you can patent your invention, other forms of intellectual property protection may offer a better strategy. See more on trade marks, trade secrets, copyright for your business and design right and registration.
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