What is a patent and how to patent your idea

startup IP

If you want a legal monopoly over an innovation there is no better way to achieve it than a patent. Patents help you protect your creativity against copycat offerings and protect your innovation for up to 20 years.

Patent protection excludes others from using or selling the subject matter of your patented invention. They are a powerful monopoly right provided the specification is well drafted. It mustn’t be easy to design around. So, drafting your own may not be such a good idea.

For product-based businesses, like Mandy Haberman’s Anyway Cup and James Dyson’s bagless vacuum cleaner, such IP protection is essential. As soon as manufacturers found out about their innovative products they began copying them. As they had patents, they were able to put a stop to the copying. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for their business to compete once similar products had been developed. Their patents were effective because it prevented other manufacturers designing around them.

How to patent your idea

Essential to patentability is confidentiality. If you disclose your invention in public before filing a patent application, you lose your right to patent it. Steve Jobs made this classic mistake when he unveiled a feature of Apple’s then-new iPhone by saying “And boy, have we patented it.” In fact, the application hadn’t yet been filed so Apple lost the opportunity to protect that feature.

Although you don’t need to have a finished product, you need more than a mere idea. There are various requirements to patentability. For example, minor improvements to an existing product or process won’t secure patent protection. There is more information about the patentability requirements here on our patents page.

However, a patent may not always be the right answer to protect your business. For example, a recipe such as the Irn Bru formula is protected through trade secrets. By opting to keep the formula confidential, rather than disclosing it in a patent application, AG Barr, creators of the iconic Scottish soft drink, has managed to keep its Irn Bru recipe a secret for over a hundred years. If it had opted for a patent, AG Barr’s monopoly would have lasted just 20 years. By now everyone would have been able to freely copy the formula. This is a good example of how it is possible to protect an idea or concept through various intellectual property rights. Accordingly, it’s essential to take advice and be strategic about IP protection.

For further information or advice on how to protect your innovation, contact us.

Tidman Legal is a firm of intellectual property specialists based in Edinburgh, Scotland.