Intellectual property: the basics

IP rights: patents

Guide

Patents are one of the four basic intellectual property (IP) rights. Patents protect the methods and processes that make things work. There are strict rules that determine what you can and can't patent.

Can you patent an idea in the UK?

You cannot patent an abstract idea. You must be able to put the idea into practice, eg turn it into an invention, in order for it to be patentable.

You can only patent an invention if it is:

  • new - not already known to the public before the date a patent is applied for
  • inventive - not an obvious modification of what is already known
  • capable of industrial application - ie can be made or used in any kind of industry

For examples of what you can and can't patent, see can I patent my idea or invention.

How do you get a patent?

To protect your right to exclusive use of your invention, you must apply for a patent. Patent application procedures can be complicated and take significant time. Some inventions may need more than one patent to secure full protection. You may also need to seek patent protection in more than one territory.

Find out how to apply for a patent.

Patent attorneys can help you search for existing patents, prepare patent applications and make sure that you are not infringing anyone else's intellectual property rights.

Patents are a valuable form of intellectual property, and like all property, you should protect them. If you have a patent and someone uses it without permission, you have the right to claim for compensation. Read more about patent protection and enforcement.

Some areas of patent law have been affected by EU Exit. For current information on these, see: changes to patent law from 1 January 2021.

For a quick introduction to patents, watch the Intellectual Property Office video below.

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