Applying for a Patent
Applying for a patent is a fundamental step for most inventors and its worthwhile understanding the application process before diving in. This article is best read with a couple of real patents to hand, so if you don’t already have some, see the articles ‘Patent search’ and ‘How to do your own preliminary patent search’ to find out.
Format of your ApplicationPatent applications normally follow a standard format. They start with a descriptive title for the invention, e.g. ‘Power backup device’, and then usually an explanation of the background of the invention — the problems it addresses, why these are problems, the advantages and disadvantages of previous attempts to solve them, and how your invention is better. This standard format usually takes the form of ‘An object of this invention is to provide X feature…’ and ‘A further object of this invention is to provide Y feature…’, and the description continues with an elaboration of how exactly it does this: ‘Accordingly, this invention provides a power backup device comprising Z…’ and so on.
The illustrations, or figures, are then described, with the numbered features referenced and explained in the context of the way the invention works. These diagrams used to be prepared in a particular style, with elaborate shading and typography, but many inventors are now able to use ‘wireframe’ outputs from CAD packages which are being used to develop the invention concurrently with the actual patent application. This can save significant amounts of money at this stage — if you are working with an outside contractor to do the CAD, it’s worthwhile including the patent diagrams as part of this.
After the references to the figures usually come the claims. This is, in a sense, the core of the patent application: what actual inventive steps are being claimed. These are the trickiest part of the application for a novice inventor, and where the services of a patent attorney or chartered patent agent — even a pro bono half-hour consultation — are most valuable. More than one claim is desirable.
After ApplyingOnce you have sent in your patent specification, together with form 1/77 ‘Request for grant of a patent’ — which, from this point, entitles you to use the terms ‘Patent Applied For’ or ‘Patent Pending’ on your promotional material and products — the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) will issue a receipt and an application number. This establishes the filing date of your application, which can be important if you subsequently need to make changes or wish to file patents overseas.
The next stage is to request a search — this includes a preliminary examination of your patent specification, followed by a search for similar patents or those which describe similar features to yours, issued in the form of a report. (You can also request the search as soon as you send in the original application, but the application fee doesn’t become payable until the search is requested, and there may be changes you wish to make to the specification before going ahead with the search, so many inventors will wait for a while, but no longer than 12 months from the original filing date.)
After this you will receive the search report, which will usually highlight the individual paragraphs and diagrams in other patents considered to be relevant to your own. From this point, you can modify your application, if you wish, withdraw, or continue with the process.