Guide

Get patent protection for your business

What is a patent?

If you invent something that you believe to be unique and commercially viable, you should consider applying for a patent to protect your right to its use.

What is a UK patent?

In the UK, the term 'patent' refers to the exclusive right granted to you to prevent others from manufacturing, importing, using or selling your invention:

  • without your permission
  • for a set period of time
  • in the country or countries in which you hold that patent

A UK patent is not an automatic right. You have to apply for it to the UK Intellectual Property Office.

How do you patent an idea in the UK?

Patents don't protect ideas that exist in your mind alone. To be capable of patent protection, your ideas have to be written down, drawn or otherwise embodied into an invention (eg as a prototype or a product).

You may consider applying for a patent if you invent:

  • a new component or innovative product - eg a new type of lid for a drinks carton which keeps the contents fresh for longer
  • an industrial process or way of making or manufacturing something - eg a new plastic-moulding technique
  • new apparatus or equipment used in an industrial process - eg a new kind of tool for cutting metal

A patent is a valuable asset and can form the basis of a business. However, patent costs can be considerable and the application process can be lengthy, so it's important to consider carefully the advantages and disadvantages of getting a patent.

Different types of patents

In some countries, including the USA, different types of patents exist. Two main types are utility patents and design patents.

In the UK, however, patents only apply to inventions. Designs are protected through unregistered design rights or registered designs.

UK patent rights:

  • apply across the UK
  • last for up to 20 years (subject to renewal)
  • are intellectual property assets that you can buy, sell and license

The key thing to keep in mind is that patents are territorial rights. If you take out a patent in the UK, it will only be valid in the UK. If you wish to sell your invention abroad, you may want to consider seeking patent protection in other markets. See how to apply for patents in other countries.

To maintain your rights, you will have to defend your patent against any infringement. See more on patent protection and enforcement.

Patents may not always be the best course of protection for your idea. You may want to consider other types of legal protection for intellectual property rights.