That’s A Good Idea – Let’s Patent It! — Michael Thacker — 2nd March 2015.

I had a good idea once.  I thought of a “spring-like trel­lis device” that would keep a refuse sack open wide enough to put garden rub­bish in it.

  1. I found out later on look­ing on the web that other sim­ilar things had been inven­ted
  2. After listen­ing to today’s talk – glad that I didn’t start on the long, long and very expens­ive trail to get a device pat­en­ted.

Michael talked us through all the stages of apply­ing for a patent.

The idea of pat­ents goes back many years.  In 1449 Henry the 6th gran­ted John Ultman (Flemish glass maker) a patent for col­oured glass, and in 1621 James the 1st enacted a “Statute of Monopolies” for the pro­tec­tion of new inven­tions.

Prior Art plays an import­ant part of the pro­ced­ure.  This is research going back many, many years to estab­lish that an inven­tion is already known about.  It is enough that someone, some­where, some time pre­vi­ously has described, shown or made some­thing that is sim­ilar to your inven­tion e.g. Sensodyne tooth­paste has an ingredi­ent potassium nitrate (salt petre) to make teeth less sens­it­ive. However, Prior Art revealed that sail­ors, years ago, used salt petre for toothache so Sensodyne was not given a patent.

Patents cannot be applied for “world wide”.  A patent must be applied for to every coun­try  that you wish to include.  The expense involved in get­ting the word­ing of the patent (very, very import­ant) and the fees involved restrict any humble DIY man from embark­ing on such a path!

The man (Hungarian) who inven­ted Rubik’s cube only took out a patent to cover Hungary.  The cube was then copied in coun­tries all over the world, rob­bing him of an enorm­ous for­tune.  It would have cost him £3000–5000 per coun­try and the same amount for trans­la­tions.

To sat­isfy require­ments the patent must be your inven­tion.  If, how­ever, you work for a com­pany, the com­pany (accord­ing to your job descrip­tion) could claim the rights (e.g. if your job was in R & D then it would be expec­ted that your inven­tion belonged to the com­pany).  If, how­ever, your job was to make sand­wiches in the works canteen, then you could say it was your idea and have an assign­ment of the inven­tion.

You cannot patent things that already exist, Prior Art research would con­firm this.  You have to be care­ful who you instruct to do the legal work neces­sary and you should appoint a Patent Attorney who is com­pet­ent in the field with which your inven­tion lies.  You should check that he has no con­flict of interest (he may have worked for your com­pet­it­ors) and you should find out the upfront fees that he would charge.

Patents could be thou­sands of pages long, include dia­grams and for­mu­las, and the word­ing has to be pre­cise and give all details reques­ted and describe the best method of put­ting the device into prac­tice.

Eighteen months after the filing of your applic­a­tion, com­pet­it­ors will be aware of your patent and will try to use gaps missed in your word­ing to pro­duce a sim­ilar product.  If a patent is infringed court action could be enforced but, there again, the cost of more legal fees makes one hes­it­ate.

Michael quoted the case of Polaroid v. Kodak where the latter pro­duced  their own “Polaroid” prints.  Polaroid won and Kodak was almost bank­rup­ted by the com­pens­a­tion costs!

Because of all the legal costs involved in patent applic­a­tions – unless you have an abso­lute winner – forget it!