How to manage your patents
A patent is a form of intellectual property right that protects new inventions. It gives the patent owner an entitlement to prevent others from making, using, importing or selling the invention without permission.
A patent can be a valuable asset. You can buy, sell or license a patent. However, the costs of obtaining it can be considerable. Protection isn't automatic - you have to apply for it and it can take a long time for a patent to be granted.
This guide highlights key considerations around managing your patents, such as renewing your patent and buying and licensing other people's patents. It explains how you can monitor, object to and challenge other people's patent applications, and tackle patent infringement.
Finally, it describes the advantages and disadvantages of licensing your patent and resolving patent disputes.
Renewing your patent
A patent gives you monopoly rights on your invention. In order to retain these rights, you must renew your patent regularly. You can renew your patent online or by post with the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO).
When to renew your patent
You must renew your patent on the fourth anniversary of when you filed for it. You then need to renew every year near the 'due date' - the last day of the month in which you first filed.
You can renew up to three months before, or within one month after, the due date to avoid late payment fees. You can renew up to six months after the due date but you'll have to pay £24 on top of the renewal fee for each extra month.
UK patent renewal fees
In order to renew your patent, you will need to pay the correct fee to the IPO. You can pay by cheque, credit or debit card, or bank transfer. The amount you pay goes up every year of the patent's life:
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When you renew your patent online, you can ask the IPO to email you a reminder a month before the next due date. If you don't renew your patent on time, the IPO will send you a reminder by post. They'll use the last address you provided. If you want it to be sent to a new or different postal address, you should write to the IPO or renew by post.
Late grants and patent renewals
If your patent was granted later than three years and nine months after the filing date, it is considered a 'late grant' and special conditions apply.
In this case, your first renewal is due three months after your patent was granted. You'll need to pay the fee by the last day of that month. You may also have to pay multiple fees that cover more than one renewal year when you pay your first renewal fee.
Find more information on renewing your patent with the IPO.
The IPO reduces its annual renewal fees to half the usual cost if your patent is endorsed licence of right, ie if you agree to license your patent to anyone who asks. However, if you don't pay your renewal fee in time, full late payment fees will apply.
How to renew an expired patent
If you don't pay your renewal fee on time or within the six months grace period for late payment, your patent right will lapse.
It is possible to reinstate your right within a certain period, but you will have to prove that a genuine error has caused the lapse of the patent.
You can apply to restore a lapsed patent within 19 months from the date on which you were due to pay the renewal fee. You should make an application for restoration at the IPO as soon as possible to minimise the risk of a third party gaining the right to use your invention. Find out how to apply for restoration of a patent.
Can you renew a patent after 20 years?
A patent has a term of 20 years (subject to renewal) from the date of its first filing. Once these 20 twenty years are over, a patent will expire and the protection it offers will cease to exist. This makes it possible for others to create and market your invention.
Changing and updating your patent
A patent gives you certain legal protection for your invention. To maintain this protection, you must keep your patent details up to date. For example, you must tell the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) if you change your name or address, or the ownership of your patent changes hands.
Changing your name or address
To change the patent holder's name and/or address as recorded in the IPO's patent register, you must request the correction of name and address on patent.
Changing the ownership of your patent
If you assign ownership of your patent application to another party, for example through business sale or merger, you need to let the IPO know. Register a change in ownership of rights of a patent.
Changing or appointing an attorney
If you decide to change the agent for your patent, you must ask the IPO to amend your agent details, including their name and their contact address for service. Find forms to appoint or change an agent.
Correcting an error in your patent
If you made an error in your original patent application, you can correct it by writing to the IPO. You can request a correction before or after a patent is granted. You can correct errors in:
- your patent
- your patent application
- the register of patents
- any connected document
Amending your patent after grant
To change a patent after it's granted you must prepare electronic versions of:
- your patent documents with changes highlighted
- an explanation of why you're making the change
- supporting documents to explain how the error happened
As well as keeping your patent details up to date, you will also have to pay annual renewal fees to maintain the validity of your patent. Make sure that you pay your fees on time as firm timescales and rules apply for renewing your patent.
Buying and licensing other people's patents
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.
Advantages and disadvantages of licensing patents
Patents are a big capital investment for small or start-up businesses. If you don't have the money to manufacture or sell your own product, or you simply choose not to, you can license it to someone else.
Benefits of patent licensing
For patent owners, the licensing model offers the following advantages:
- You don't need to find money to commercialise your product - The licensee will be responsible for costs of manufacturing, distribution, packaging, marketing and sales, etc.
- You can get your innovation to market faster - If you issue a licence to an established business, you will be able to leverage their experience, infrastructure and involvement. They will typically be more able to move your product into the marketplace more easily and quickly.
- You can break into new markets - Depending on the deal and the licensee, you may be able to access markets that are closed to imports, avoid export taxes or mitigate risks associated with international expansion.
- You will be able to generate revenue - The licensee will pay for the right to hold the licence to your patent. This can be a one-off payment, continuous payments known as royalties, or variable payments depending on the profits.
- You keep ownership of your intellectual property - Licensing allows you to give suppliers, competitors or complementary businesses certain rights over your patent while receiving royalty income and still retaining ownership of your asset.
To be successful, a licensing arrangement should benefit all the parties involved. By acquiring rights to a patent, a licensee can:
- create new products, services and market opportunities for themselves
- reduce costs to acquire new technologies, without having to develop their own
- save time getting a new product to market
- gain a competitive advantage over rivals, especially if their licence is exclusive
If put into place correctly, licensing can be lucrative and mutually beneficial to both the patent and the licence holder. However, licensing can also increase potential competition and risks for both parties, so it's important to consider potential pitfalls.
Disadvantages of licensing patents
It can take a lot of effort and determination to find the right licensee. To give your product the greatest chances of success, you should put a lot of thought into evaluating potential licensees and structuring your licensing agreement.
Other potential risks and downsides to patent licensing include:
- loss of control (partially or fully) over your invention
- relying on the licensee's ability to effectively commercialise your patent
- risk of poor strategy or execution damaging the product success
- poor quality management damaging your brand or product reputation
In addition, by licensing out your product, you are effectively creating competition for yourself. You may try to limit the scope of the license as much as possible to avoid giving your competitors unnecessary advantage in the marketplace.
Keep in mind that you will need to manage your relationship with the licensee carefully. If things go wrong, you may find yourself in disputes or needing to cover legal costs. Before you sign over any rights to your patent, it's worth doing due diligence checks on any potential licensees to assess their suitability and track record.
If you decide to sell or license your patent, you should keep detailed records of any contracts or agreements you have made. Seek legal advice if in doubt.
Monitoring patent applications
Monitoring patent activity is an essential part of protecting your intellectual property portfolio and your business. It allows you to spot any competitors seeking to register a patent similar to - or conflicting with - yours or make an application that could potentially affect your business.
It also allows you to keep tabs on granted patents. For example, to learn if a particular patent expires, is surrendered or assigned to another party.
By monitoring patents of interest, you can gather critical intelligence for your own business strategy. The information will enable you to seize opportunities, make better decisions and determine if you need to object or challenge certain patent applications.
How to monitor patents
You can purchase many patent monitoring, watching and alerting services to carry out competitive intelligence on your behalf. However, with a bit of time and effort, you can monitor new patent applications or granted patent yourself by:
- checking the Intellectual Property Office's (IPO) search report
- checking those parts of the file that are open to public inspection
- registering a caveat with the IPO, to be notified if certain changes occur
Patent search reports
The IPO allows free access to search reports, which may contain:
- evidence that the IPO asked the applicant to change the claims during examination
- documents that are related reading, and which are unlikely to affect the outcome
- an indication that no relevant documents existed when the IPO searched the application
- no search made, usually if the IPO considered invention not patentable
You can get free access to search reports through Espacenet.
Open to Public Inspection (OPI) files
As well as search reports, correspondence between the IPO and the patent applicant or their attorney are also open to the public.
You can check these files by appointment and without charge at the IPO's Newport or London offices. Some document from the file may also be available online through the IPO's patent documentation and information service.
Request a caveat from the IPO
You can monitor the progress of someone else's patent application or patent by registering a caveat with the UK IPO. A caveat is a notification that some action has taken place on a patent application or patent.
You can ask the IPO to warn you if the following happens:
- application is published or withdrawn, refused or abandoned before publication
- opposition is filed against an application
- application is registered or withdrawn, refused or abandoned after publication
- patent is not renewed
- patent is renewed or expired
- patent is surrendered or revoked
- assignment application is received
- patent is assigned, either partially or in full
The IPO will not tell the applicant or patent owner of the patent that a caveat is in place.
Find out more about caveats and monitoring patent applications.
Objecting to patent applications
If you discover that a competitor has filed an application for a patent that you believe should not be allowed, you may want to oppose the application. There are several ways you can object to an application, and for several reasons.
Observations on grounds of patentability
You can tell the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) if you believe that an invention is not patentable - ie not new or inventive. This is known as 'making observations'.
Some of the grounds for opposing a patent application may involve:
- prior art or prior use - if the invention isn't novel
- obviousness - if the invention lacks an inventive step
- not an invention - the subject matter of the application is not patentable
- insufficiency - the specification doesn't explain how to put the patent into practice
To determine if an invention meets the criteria for a patent, see can I patent my idea or invention.
How to file patent observations
You should support your observations with evidence wherever possible. For example, you could provide a dated magazine or journal article which shows the invention before the application's earliest filing date. If you claim that something is well known in the industry, you must show that this was the case before the application's earliest filing date.
You should file your observations with the IPO in writing, electronically or by post. Timing is important - you should file your observation:
- at any point after the IPO publish a patent application
- before they grant the patent in question
- before they issue a notification of their intent to grant the patent
It is recommended that you file observations within three months of publication, as the IPO may grant application after this time. The IPO will consider your observations when deciding if they should grant a patent.
Learn more about making patent observations.
After the patent is granted, there are limited ways in which you may be able to challenge and oppose the validity of the patent. See post-grant opposition of patents.
Post-grant opposition of patents
If you believe a patent should not have been granted, there are limited ways in which you can challenge the patent's validity. You can request an opinion from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) or file an opposition in court to try to invalidate or revoke a patent.
Litigation in court is generally more expensive, time consuming and stressful than some of the alternative ways of resolving patent disputes.
Opinions on entitlement or validity
If you believe a patent is invalid or infringes earlier rights, you don't automatically need to begin legal proceedings. You can ask for the UK IPO's patent opinion.
As part of the opinion process, the IPO's senior examiners can look into the validity or infringement of:
- your own patent
- someone else's patent
- supplementary protection certificates (pharmaceutical industry)
An opinion is not binding on you or others involved, however can help you negotiate a settlement or decide if it's worth your while taking legal action.
The opinion process typically takes around three months and costs £200. When the IPO reach an opinion, they will send it to all the parties involved in the case and will advertise the outcome.
In their opinions, possible determinations may include:
- that a particular act infringes the patent
- that there is no infringement
- that the IPO consider the patent invalid - in which case they may start the process of revoking a patent
Read about opinions as a way of resolving patent disputes.
Actions following issue of an opinion
If you disagree with the IPO's opinion, you may be able to challenge it and request a review. To be able to request a review, you must be either:
- the patent holder
- the supplementary protection certificate proprietor
- an exclusive licensee
As part of the review, the IPO will conduct full legal proceedings and can either confirm their decision or set it aside. At this point, you may be able to amend your patent to overcome the issues raised, in an attempt to prevent revocation.
In limited circumstances, you may be able to appeal the review decision further. Find out more about asking for an IPO review.
Ways to revoke or invalidate a patent
A UK patent can be revoked (ie cancelled) by the UK IPO or the court. Defendants in infringement actions often bring revocation as counter claims in the legal process. If the IPO or court revokes a patent, it will be treated as never having existed.
Under UK patent law, there are five main grounds for revocation of a patent:
- non-patentability: the invention isn't novel or lacks the inventive step, or is related to excluded subject matter (eg medical treatment)
- non-entitlement: the patent was granted to a person who was not entitled to it
- insufficiency: the patent specification doesn't disclose the invention clearly enough for a skilled person to be able to put it into use
- added matter: the subject-matter of the patent extends beyond the content of the originally filed application
- unallowable post-grant extension: the protection granted by the patent has been extended by an amendment after grant which should not have been allowed
Read more about the power to revoke patents on application.
Opposing requests for changes to a patent
Sometimes people ask to make changes to their patent after it has been granted. The IPO publishes these requests, and you can object to them just as you can object to an original patent application. See more on objecting to patent applications.
Resolving patent disputes
Patent disputes are not uncommon. The majority of disputes fall under one of two categories: those between competitors in a market and those raised by a third party in an attempt to monetise a patent portfolio. Disputes involving licensing agreements are also relatively common.
Most experts agree that litigation should be your last resort in resolving patent disputes. Litigation can result in significant business disruption and expense, so it's worth exploring all possible alternatives before going to court.
Resolving patent disputes - alternatives to court
Typically, there are two types of disputes that you might find yourself in. You may find yourself disagreeing:
- with the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) about an objection raised against your patent application or patent
- with a third party, eg involving patent infringement or ownership
In either case, the IPO offers several ways to help you resolve your dispute.
IPO's patent dispute resolutions hearings
The IPO's patent hearing officers can independently look at both sides of the argument and assist you through:
- an ex parte hearing - to resolve a dispute between you and the office
- an inter parte hearing - to resolve a dispute between you and someone else
Read more about the IPO's patent dispute hearings.
IPO's patent opinions
If you are involved in a dispute with someone else about infringement or the validity of an existing patent, and you wish to avoid litigation, you can ask the IPO for an opinion.
The procedure involves an impartial assessment of the main issues in contention and offers a quick and relatively low cost way of potentially resolving the dispute. Find out more about IPO's opinion service in post-grant opposition of patents.
Mediation is a type of alternative dispute resolution. It is a way of addressing issues without going to court, by talking to the opposing party with the help of an independent mediator.
The IPO offers a mediation service and can mediate in your dispute face-to-face or over the telephone. The service can help you resolve disputes about:
- infringement of patents
- patent licensing
- patent entitlement, eg determine if a co-inventor was employee or consultant
Find out more about the IPO's mediation service.
Proving that you own a patent
If you find yourself in a dispute and you need to prove that you own a patent, you can request a certified copy of your patent document from the IPO. You will have to fill in a form and pay the fee of £20 for each certified copy you need.
You may also need a certified copy as evidence in a court of law - eg if you are involved in legal action to enforce or defend your patent rights. See how to request a certified patent copy.
If you are unable to resolve your patent dispute by alternative means and you need to go ahead with litigation, you should seek professional or legal assistance. Find a patent attorney near you.
If you have a granted patent for a product, you can mark that product as patented. You can only mark your product as patented if the patent for that product has been granted.
Marking a product as 'patent applied for' when this is not true, or marking an unpatented product as patented, is a criminal offence, with the risk of prosecution. Read about marking patented products. Even if your product is not marked, you can still take legal action for infringement.
Infringement of patent
Infringing a patent means manufacturing, using, selling or importing a patented product or process without the patent owner's permission.
If someone infringes your patent, you can try to settle the dispute with them outside of court, or take legal action and claim damages against them. See resolving patent disputes.
If litigation is the only way to deal with infringement, you'll probably need professional advice. You can search for a registered patent attorney UK-wide or find a patent attorney in Northern Ireland.
What if you infringe someone's patent rights?
You must make every effort to respect other people's patents or you could face legal action and possibly damages.
If you have infringed someone else's patent and they intend to sue you for patent infringement, you might want to try to negotiate a settlement with them. You should get professional advice from a patent attorney or solicitor.
If someone does sue you for infringement, but you think that you have not infringed their patent, you will have to prove that your idea is significantly different from theirs.
There may also be a case if their patent claim is invalid, in which case you can take legal action to challenge the validity of their patent, or their patent claim. If you win this action, their patent could be cancelled, but you should bear in mind that if you lose, you will probably have to pay the other side's costs.
The Intellectual Property Office (IPO) can conduct a patent check for documents that you can use to challenge a patent. See IPO's guidance on patent infringements.
Patent protection abroad
A UK patent only protects you in the UK. To protect your invention in other countries you will need a patent in those countries. Otherwise, anyone can legally make, sell or use your invention abroad. For more information, see how to protect intellectual property abroad.
Requesting an opinion
If you become involved in a dispute about infringement or the validity of your patent, you can ask the IPO for an impartial opinion, for a fee. See more on patent protection and infringement. If you don't agree with an opinion given by the IPO you can ask them to review it. Read about objecting to patent applications.
Resolving patent disputes
If someone uses your patent without permission, there are various ways to stop them. For more information, see resolving patent disputes.