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!