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How to... patent an invention

Think you have a life-changing invention on your hands? First thing’s first: get a patent.

Image: Epiphonication via Creative Commons/Flickr

SO, YOU’VE JUST had a revolutionary idea that could change the world as we know it… where do you go from here?

Genius is no guarantee of success, so if you have good invention on your hands (and you don’t fancy others riding on your coattails) it’s essential to obtain a patent.

Do I need a patent?

Firstly, you need to figure out what kind of legal protection is appropriate for your idea.

If your idea is an invention you more than likely need a patent. An invention is a form of intellectual property – an area of law which covers two main areas, industrial property and copyright.

Patents for inventions chiefly fall under the category of industrial property, alongside Trade marks and industrial design. Meanwhile, other fruits of the mind – such as literature, music, art and film – are chiefly governed by copyright law.

What is a patent?

A patent gives the holder the right to exclude other people from “making, selling, importing or otherwise exploiting” an invention. As a form of industrial property, a patent can be assigned, transferred, licensed or used by the holder.

However, patents don’t last forever; there is a maximum time limit of 20 years for a patent in Ireland, or ten years for a “short-term” patent.

Some famous inventions from Ireland…

How to... patent an invention
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  • Colour photography

  • Submarines

  • Guided missiles

Applying for a patent

You doubtlessly believe that your idea will make money – but you had better make sure because obtaining a patent will cost you. Patent-owners must pay annual renewal fees from the third year and, as patents are territorial, you might could have to apply for multiple patents in separate jurisdictions.

However, a single application can be made through the international patent system, which covers 141 member states throughout the world, and the European Patent Office also allows patent rights to be obtained in states signed up to the European Patent Convention – saving you time and money.

When applying, you will have to specify whether you would like a full-term and short-term patent. There are a several differences between the two but the main distinction is based on an invention’s “novelty and non-obviousness”.

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“Patent pending” is a term used to inform the public that an application has been made for an item. It is illegal to falsely label a product as patent pending.

What kind of thing can be patented?

An invention must involve an inventive step and be capable of industrial application in order to be eligible for a patent.

The Irish Patents Office outlines the requirements as such:

  • Novelty: an invention is considered “new” if it does not form part of the state of the art (everything made available to the public in any way, anywhere in the world, before the date of filing of the patent application)
  • Inventive step: if a step is not obvious to a person skilled in that area of technology, having regard to the state of the art, it is regarded as inventive
  • Industrial applicability: the invention must be capable of being made or used in some kind of industry

Can I apply for a patent by myself?

Anyone can apply for a patent – however, because the process can be technically complex, it is not recommend that inexperienced individuals do so.

Patents Agents can help to provide a full description of the invention, drawings, claims defining the item and a summary of its technical features.

For more information contact the Irish Patents Office or the Intellectual Property Unit at the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation.

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