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A quick guide to introduce you to patents and patent search services


A patent is a legal contract and intellectual property (IP) right which protects a new invention, by giving the owner the right for a limited period of time to prevent others from exploiting the invention without permission. 

It means that the invention cannot be commercially made, used, distributed or sold without the patent owner's consent. It gives a detailed and technical description of the invention, and as such contains much information that may never be published in any other format.

To ensure legal protection for the invention, individuals and companies generally apply for a patent at the earliest possible stage; this means that new patents often provide the most up-to-date information available in a particular field, appearing before journal articles are published or new products reach the market

                                                                            Image credits: krawczyk

Engineering drawingThe rules governing what is patentable vary between countries. However, generally the invention must:

  • be of practical use and capable of industrial application, i.e. it must be an apparatus or device, a product such as a new material, or an industrial process or method of operation
  • have a new characteristic unknown in the body of existing knowledge in its technical field
  • have an inventive step which would not be obvious to someone with good subject knowledge and experience.

Stop signItems which are not patentable include:

  • Animal or plant varieties
  • Scientific or mathematical discoveries, theories or methods
  • Discoveries
  • Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works
  • Methods of either diagnosis or medical treatment by surgery or therapy
  • Ways of performing a mental act, playing a game or doing business
  • Presentations of information or computer programs.

Technical drawingA patent allows the inventor to:

  • sell the invention and all the intellectual property (IP) rights
  • license others to use the invention while the inventor retains the IP rights
  • discuss the invention with others in order to set up a business based around the invention

PlannerTo keep a UK patent in force, it must be renewed on the fourth anniversary of the filing date, and then annually.  It can be renewed for up to a maximum of 20 years.  The inventor can choose not to renew it or to voluntarily cancel it at any time.

Differing rules apply in other legal jurisdictions.

The European Patent Office (EPO) website provides a set of online FAQs about various aspects of patents, including procedure and law.

The UK Intellectual Property Office has a wide range of information on patents, including applying for and managing patents and the law and practice of patents.

The Intellogist website provides much useful information. The Search System Reports section contains reviews of free and commercial patent search systems. The Interactive Patent Coverage Map offers a clickable world map enabling you to find the searchable patent databases that cover specific countries.The Quick Table Comparisons section allows side-by-side comparison of the patent search systems that have been reviewed by the Intellogist team . The Resource Finder section provides links to a range of search systems, databases, publications and websites for specific science and technology areas.

The World Intellectual Property Organization website provides information on various aspects of patents, including a set of FAQs and free to download digital versions of publications about patents.

The Intellectual Property Office has a range of IP related online training tools available and these will help you understand how IP works and what can be protected using patents, copyright, trademarks and designs.


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