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Frequently Asked Questions - Protecting Ideas

What is the address of the Patent Office Web Site? How can I find out more about protecting ideas?
The Patent Office (now referred to as the UK Intellectual Property Office) web site is at
You can see a list of useful guides and documents from the Patent Office including their video presentations by clicking here Patent Office Guides . To read more about the Patent Office click here.

What is the Process for Getting a Patent?
There are eight key stages in getting a patent you can read them by reading our Patent Process Summary
How much does it cost to make a patent application?
The UK Intellectual Property Office charge for processing an application is from £310, depending on whether you apply online and whether you spread the payment. You can defer the initial application charge of £60 for up to a year whilst you decide what to do. After filing you have a year to decide whether to get a full patent but there are important milestones to meet if you are considering filing overseas. You can find out more about the details on our Patent Application Process page.

TBB may be help you to file an application as part of our Enterprise Services.  You may need the help of a Patent Attorney to help you prepare the documents. If you are not sure what to do you should always take professional advice. The cost of this can depend on many factors such as the technology. A typical cost for a straightforward application through a Patent Attorney would be around three thousand pounds. However with advice from TBB in our Enterprise Service you should not spend this amount of money unless you think that there is a good chance that your idea will be successful. 

Do I need a Patent?
A patent provides commercial protection for your idea but it does not guarantee commercial success. Some ideas cannot be protected by UK patents. There are other forms of protection such as Registered Designs or Copyright that may be more appropriate. Our page on Protecting Ideas explains the different ways to protect an idea. Note that disclosure of an idea may also occur if it is shown in public or is the topic of a paper read to a learned society or other meeting.

How do I search for a prior patent document?
You should always conduct a patent search before investing any significant amount of money in an idea. Our Patent Search page explains why. Our Enterprise Service includes a free basic Patent Search Tool and our Discovery Service includes a Worldwide Patent Search.

Where can I get Guides and Forms about protecting my idea?

The Patent Office publishes a complete set of guides and forms. We have listed the main ones that you need on this page Patent Office Guides.

How long does it take to get a Patent?

It can take several years to get a full patent granted, but you get some protection as soon as you file for a patent. You can call your idea "Patent Pending" and if your patent is granted it will be backdated to the date of your application.
How long does a Patent last?

Twenty years provided you keep up the annual payments after year 4. These vary over the life of the payment but average approximately £200 per year.
Will my invention be published if I file a patent application?
Not necessarily; an application will only be published after 18 months and then only if you have complied with all the formalities. 
Can I disclose my invention to any third party after I have filed a patent application? 
Yes, but it is strongly recommended that any disclosure is made under a Non-Disclosure Agreement. You can get an example agreement as part of our Enterprise Service.
Can I file a world-wide patent? 
No, there is no such thing as a world-wide patent but you can use the same Patent Application in multiple countries if you pay their registration fees. This is known as a Patent Cooperation Treaty or PCT Application.
How can I protect my invention in other countries? 
International Convention Applications (PCT) , corresponding to a basic United Kingdom Application, may be filed in most overseas territories within twelve (12) months of filing the UK Application. 
Can I withdraw my pending application to prevent publication?
Yes, a pending patent application may be withdrawn up to about 16 months from filing an application. After that it may be published and the idea put in the Public Domain.
Do I have to file claims when I file my patent application? 
No, it is not necessary to file claims when filing a patent application; however, it is recommended that claims are filed so that the results of a Novelty Search may be obtained in good time before consideration has to be given to continuing with the basic application and/or filing corresponding patent applications elsewhere.

What is a PCT application? 
A PCT Application is a Patent Co-operation Treaty application, which facilitates the provisional filing of one application, which may eventually be extended to over 139 countries. 
What is a European Patent application?

A European Patent application is a single application that may eventually be brought into effect in any one or more of the 27 European countries that are signatories to the European Patent Convention. 
If I require protection in France, do I have to file a European patent application and/or a French patent application in the first instance? 
No, it is more economic to file in the UK initially and to file in France within 12 months under the International Convention. A European patent application would only be worthwhile if more than three (3) European territories were to be protected.

How can I protect my idea for a new website?

In the UK a website is protected by the laws of copyright and through use of a strong trade mark. For an example, there are a number of websites providing online auction services, however eBay is certainly the largest, and the most well-known and well-established. Consumers might look for the eBay name and trade mark to indicate a service that is preferred over other sites that offer a similar service. 
What protection can I obtain without the expense of filing a patent application?
A-1. Depending upon the nature of your development, it may be that having prepared drawings of the development, you have established Copyright in relation to the representations of the development.
A-2. Some features of the development may automatically be protected by Design Right.
A-3. It may also be possible to seek Registered Design protection for the development. All that needs to be done is the filing of an application for Registered Design protection at the Designs Registry

If somebody copies my development and I have not filed for a patent or a registered design, can I take any action to redress the situation?

A-1. The short answer is yes, but only if it can be readily proven that any Copyright and/or Design Right has been infringed by the third party making and/or distributing and/or selling the infringing product; otherwise it may prove too costly to enter an action against the alleged infringer(s).
A-2. The more complex answer is that, you may be best advised to make representation to the alleged plagiarist offering a licence on terms to be agreed between the parties. If the other party accepts your offer of a licence, you will avoid the costly and time consuming exercise of resorting to the law for redress of the situation. 
Should I take any action to record my Copyright and or Design Right?
A-1. Recording of Copyright and/or Design Right is not absolutely necessary; however, in order to be in a position to prove conclusively that any Copyright and/or Design Right belongs to you and any associates, you should ensure that all drawings, sketches, reports, schemes, produced electronically and/or in hard copy are marked and dated in respect of the rights you are claiming to yourself and any associates. Drawings may be marked by the conventional © in a circle like this .
A-2. There are other unofficial depositories for documents in relation to Copyright and/or Design Right and/or Registered Design Right; however, it is not recommended that anyone should incur the extra cost of placing any documents and/or product(s) in such depositories, especially if they have taken the steps outlined above for the protection of their Intellectual Property Rights i.e. their IPRs. 
If my new product has been made by an outside design house to my instructions, do I still own the IPRs, viz. the Copyright and/or the Design Right and/or the Registered Design Right? 

The answer should be yes; however, if the design house has made any contribution no matter how inconsequential to the shape and configuration of the final product, it will be prudent to obtain an appropriate assignment from the proprietor of the design house and any employee thereof who may have worked on the design. Such assignment should also include the assignment of rights from any person or persons who may have been contracted to the design house in relation to development of the product design.

Note! It is not sufficient for any prior contractual undertaking between you and a design house to include an intent to assign any IPRs although this will be useful in the event that the parties fail to agree upon an assignment of the IPRs at some future date. 
I have made up a Trade Mark for my new development; should I file an application for protection of the Mark? 
It is not recommended that you should go to the expense of filing an application for protection of the Trade Mark you have devised if you are thinking of selling your idea; this is because:

(i) unlike patents, it is not necessary to file an application for the protection of a Trade Mark before publication of the new Mark; and,
(ii) any third party, who may be interested in acquiring rights in your development, may have established Trade Marks for ranges of products that would ultimately include your development.

However you should consider filing a Trade Mark to protect a brand. Building up value in a brand may be the best way of protecting things like a business service or a software product. 
Why do I need a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) or Confidentiality Agreement? 
You cannot Patent your idea if it is in the Public Domain. Generally, your idea will go into the Public Domain if you disclose it orally or in writing to anyone who is not bound by a confidentiality agreement. An exception to this may be a Patent Attorney who is bound by professional rules of conduct. If you disclose your idea to us without an NDA in place then you cannot Patent your idea. Our Discovery Pack includes an NDA that protects both you and TBB by making clear what is the nature of our agreement. Our Enterprise Service provides example NDAs that you can use if you talk to other people.

Will I lose the rights in my idea if I disclose it to TBB?
We insist that all applicants sign a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) for their protection. These measures ensure that the Inventor retains the rights in their intellectual property. You may lose your rights if you disclose your idea to anyone else without a non-disclosure agreement in place. You can download a free Non-Disclosure Agreement as part of our Enterprise Service