Everything you need to know about patents (patent definition, types of patents, patent process, patent costs, etc.)
The most valuable assets of a company are often intangible. A new computer software, a novel production process or a new drug formula can be worth much more than any physical assets. However, obtaining a patent can be a somewhat complicated process due to the fragmented nature of the patent system which is governed not only by national laws, but also by international treaties.
We have put together answers to the most important questions, explaining how to apply for a patent, how to get a patent and how to patent an idea and a product.
But let’s start with the patent meaning: what exactly is a patent? A patent is an exclusive right allowing an inventor to exclude others from making, using or selling his or her inventions for the duration of the patent. This patent definition is important to note, as it means that a patent does not give the inventor the right to make, use or sell his or her invention, but only to exclude others from doing so.
A patent can be granted for any invention having a technical character provided that it is new, involves an ‘inventive step’ and is susceptible to industrial application.
Patents have to be registered in the countries or territories where protection is being sought. Most patent filings are, however, made under an international treaty: the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT). This treaty dates back to 1970, and by filing one international application under the PCT, applicants can protect their inventions in more than 150 contracting states.
While it’s technically possible to file a patent application on your own and without specialised patent attorneys, professional assistance certainly makes it easier to navigate the patent law landscape and can help you to avoid a lengthy and potentially unsuccessful patent process.
A successful patent application traditionally involves extensive patent searches, form filing and, last but not least, the exact translation of your invention. EHLION has many years of experience in providing patent translations, and we are able to give you detailed advice on patent applications.
What is a patent?
Although there are slight variations as to what can be patented where, generally speaking patent protection is available for any product, process or design that meets the requirements of novelty, nonobviousness (which essentially means that the invention must not be an obvious variation or combination of subject matter previously known) and utility.
Different types of patents
There are different kinds of patents, but when most people talk about patents, they are usually referring to product patents which are called utility patents – a process, a machine, a manufactured product or a new composition of matter such as a new drug. The US also grants plant patents for the production, discovery and invention of any new kind of plant capable of reproduction, as well as design patents for inventions which include an original, new and ornamental design for a manufactured product.
Confusion sometimes arises as there are also other intellectual property (IP) rights – for example trademarks and copyright – which also protect creative and artistic inventions, and in some cases, inventors should weigh up the pros and cons of applying for a patent as other IP rights could also be used to protect the results of their work.
For instance, in many countries, computer programs are protected under copyright, and obtaining a software patent might not always be required. Besides, the patent process requires you to disclose unique information about your innovation, and given that there may be multiple ways of creating your software solution, disclosing your idea may actually be counterproductive.
How to patent an idea
The question often arises as to whether you can patent an idea. Strictly speaking, the answer is no. To successfully apply for a patent, you need more than a great thought. You need to have worked out how exactly your invention functions and be able to describe it in detail so that it could actually be built. Simply having an idea is not enough. However, you do not need to produce a prototype prior to filing a patent application.
Where can you apply for a patent?
Never forget that patent laws are country-specific and that a patent granted in one country won’t protect your invention elsewhere. Before filing a patent application, you should always ask yourself for which markets your invention would be most commercially attractive. Besides being able to sue for patent infringements, this would enable you to enter into lucrative patent licensing agreements.
US Patent and Trademark Office
The US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is tasked with examining patent applications filed in the US and granting patents.
Inventors can actually choose one of two types of United States patent applications. The first one is a nonprovisional application, which kickstarts the examination process and may lead to a patent.
The second one is a provisional patent application, which requires you to submit only a brief summary of your invention. A provisional application establishes a filing date, and you then get 12 months to file a full patent application. The advantage of this provisional application is that you won’t need to have worked out every detail of your invention, and if someone files a similar patent, your application will be prioritised. You can also use the term “patent pending” in connection with the description of the invention.
Both applications can be submitted online using the Electronic Filing System (EFS) or by writing to the Commissioner for Patents. Contact EHLION for comprehensive advice on submitting patent applications.
European Patent Office
In Europe, you can either apply to the national patent office(s) of the country or countries in which you want to protect your invention or to the European Patent Office (EPO). The European Patent Office accepts applications under the European Patent Convention (EPC) and the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).
A European patent granted by EPO will need to be validated in each country where protection is sought, and in a number of countries the application will need to be translated into the official language of the patent office and additional fees may need to be paid. If you are seeking protection in only a few countries, it might make more sense to apply directly for a national patent in each country.
If you chose to apply for a European Patent, the most important form to fill in is the EPO Form 1001. All European patent applications must be accompanied by a description of the invention, one or more patent claims (claims define which subject-matter is sought to be protected), any drawings referred to in the description or the claims, and an abstract. Depending on your exact circumstances, there may be other forms that need to be submitted, so you may wish to check out the EPO’s comprehensive e-learning centre.
Applications for European patents can also be filed by post, fax or by hand at the EPO’s headquarters in Munich, its branch in The Hague and its Berlin sub-office.
However, the EPO also offers several online filing tools, which may be the more convenient way to submit your patent application. European patent applications can be filed online using either the EPO’s Online Filing software, the new online filing (CMS) application or the web-form filing service. For a full overview, check out EPO’s comparison table.
National patent offices in Japan, Korea and China
Besides the US Patent and Trademark Office, there are some other national patent authorities of great importance. These are:
- Japan Patent Office (JPO)
- Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO)
- National Intellectual Property Administration in China.
These four national patent authorities, together with the European Patent Office, are the largest intellectual property offices in the world and are part of the IP5 forum. Together they handle some 80 per cent of the world’s patent applications, and 95 per cent of all work carried out under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT).
World Intellectual Property Organization
If you wish to file a patent application in multiple countries, you should follow the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) route, and besides EPO, you can file your international patent application directly with the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). By filing one international application, you can seek protection in more than 150 countries. For more information on filing directly with WIPO, including details on WIPO’s online filing system, take a look at the WIPO guide.
Where are intellectual property rights listed?
Before applying for a patent, you should check whether your invention is actually new and has not yet been patented.
If you wish to apply for a patent in one country, consult the national register of that country. In Europe, they hold details on all national patents as well as information related to European patents validated in that country.
- For US applications, the US Patent and Trademark Office is your go-to-address. The USPTO maintains one of the world’s biggest patent databases where inventors can run patent searches and access all published patent applications, as well as granted patents.
- For a European patent search, take a look at EPO’s Espacenet. The platform offers free access to over 110 million patent documents, allowing inventors to verify what patents have already been granted.
- With WIPO’s Patentscope you can conveniently search international patents and patent applications by accessing some 84 million patent documents.
Patent duration and patent infringements
How long is a patent good for? Patents are usually valid for 20 years in the country and territories where they are registered.
However, it’s mostly the responsibility of the patent owner to monitor, identify and, ultimately, take legal action against infringers.
How much does a patent cost?
Patent application costs vary from country to country, and in addition to patent office fees, you need to budget for legal fees and translation costs. The exact cost will also depend on factors such as the complexity of the invention, the length of the application process and possible objections raised during the examination by the patent office.
For a full overview of USPO’s costs, take a look at their fee schedule.
EPO offers an interactive fee schedule, which allows inventors to get a good idea of the costs involved.
For an easy comparison, we’ve listed below the fees for a US patent and those for a European patent. All fees mentioned are valid for online filing and apply to large entities. Depending on your patent and application, there are other fees you may need to pay.
|Filing Fee||$300||€125 ($136)|
|Search Fee||$660||€1,350 ($1,473)|
|Examination Fee||$760||€1,700 ($1,854)|
|Issue Fee||$1,000||€960 ($1,047)|
Fees for international applications under the PCT system that reach WIPO depend on the fees of the national authorities that are part of the PCT system, and can therefore vary substantially. While applicants can register their patent in all PCT member states with just one application, they would need to pay the fees of each country in which they want their patent to be registered. Therefore, in certain cases, it might be more cost-effective and straight forward to apply directly at the national patent offices in the countries where you would want your patent to be registered.
Accepted languages and translations
Language of the application
Depending on where you file your patent application, you may need to submit it in a different language.
If you decide to apply through WIPO, you can submit your international application in one of the ten publication languages of the PCT, which are Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian or Spanish. If the application is in another language, the applicant has to submit a translated version.
The official languages of the European Patent Office are English, French and German. If the application is in another language, it also needs to be translated into one of the official languages.
National IP authorities usually mandate that a patent application should be filed in their local language. If the application is in a foreign language, a verified translation needs to be submitted.
The importance of patent translations
Although it’s not well reported, translation is one of the most important aspects of a patent application. Inaccurate or poor translations can jeopardize not only the patent application process, but also render the patent unenforceable.
Translating patent applications, therefore, is a skill that requires both expertise in the subject matter and in the languages concerned.
EHLION’s patent translators are specialised language experts who will work with you and for you to ensure your patent application meets the highest standards – no matter which language.
We work with inventors, innovators and product developers from across the world, and we provide fast and accurate translation services to ensure your patent application receives the green light from the relevant authorities in the shortest possible time. EHLION adheres to the highest quality standards, using only uses native-speaker translators who exclusively translate into their own native language.
so that we can guide you through the patent process.
From patent to profit
Given the complex and fragmented nature of the patent landscape, preparing your patent application is one of the most important aspects of the patenting process.
While the quality of your application will affect your chances of receiving the patent in the first place, the decision on where to register your patent has a major impact on your ability to commercialize your invention and, ultimately, turn your patent into profit.
This is why you should definitely consider working with a professional partner who can help you compile a strong and commercially valuable patent application. Reach out to EHLION for more information on patent translations.
Contact us now for a free consultation to translate your patent project.