Guide

Find support for inventors

Support for protecting your ideas

If you're working on an original invention and have established that nobody else has developed (or is developing) something similar, you need to consider how you will protect your intellectual property (IP).

Protecting IP in an invention

Depending on the type of your product, you may want to apply for a patent, a trade mark or a registered design to keep competitors at bay. These IP rights can prohibit others to make, use and exploit your inventions without your permission.

To weigh up your options and understand the assets you must protect in your invention, read more about trade marks, design right and registration and find out how to get patent protection for your business.

Bear in mind that there may be times when it might be better to keep quiet about your invention and delay applying for IP rights such as patents to keep your invention secret. Read more about trade secrets.

Patenting your invention

You can only call your idea an invention if you can prove it is original. To prove originality, you will need to conduct a search of previously registered patents, as rights may already exist protecting the same or similar idea or invention, any components that form part of it, or any processes it uses.

Get help with patent searches

You can get free local advice on patents and patent searches from specialist advisers at Invest Northern Ireland (NI). Find out more about Invest NI's IP support. For expert advice, you may also want to consult an IP specialist such as a patent attorney.

A patent attorney will be able to advise you on the best way of exploiting an invention's commercial potential and guide you through the application process for patents and registered designs. Find a chartered patent attorney in Northern Ireland.

Trade mark attorneys can advise you on design issues as well as trade marks - which could form an important part of the commercial viability of your invention. Find a trade mark attorney in Northern Ireland.

Advice and help on searching patents and designs, as well as trade marks, is also available throughout the UK network of Patent Information Libraries (PATLIBS). The Central Library in Belfast hosts one of the PATLIBS' patent information units.

Be aware that some commercial businesses offer patents searching services costing thousands of pounds. In reality, they are only searching the databases that are freely available to the public. It is always advisable to use a registered patent attorney, or to speak to Invest NI's intellectual property advisers.