What Can Be Patented In UK?

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Before proceeding ahead, we need to understand first about patent. What is a patent and what it is used for? So, a patent is a part of someone’s intellectual property that gives its owner the right to abandon others from making, using, or selling an invention for a limited period in exchange for publishing an enabling disclosure of his or her innovation.  

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To get the rights of a patent, one needs to follow few steps as per the regional patent office. All the offices conduct a procedure to find out the invention value’s by evaluating its novelty, uniqueness, and its use for public good. 

Can All Inventions Be Patented?

An invention can only be patented if it is: 

Not already available or known to the public before the date a patent application is applied in any patent office. 

The idea or invention must not be a copy or enhanced version of already existing product or process; and 

The invention should be capable of any industrial application/mankind usage, that is, can be made or used in any kind of industry. 

In other way, your invention must make a technical contribution. This means you can’t, for example, patent an idea of gravity, sun produces heat etc. Inventions relating to computer software may be patentable, but only if they involve something more (technical effect) than just software running on a computer in a technically ordinary way.   

What Cannot Be Patented?

Things you cannot patent include: 

  • Literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works 
  • A way of doing business, playing a game or thinking 
  • A method of medical treatment or diagnosis 
  • A discovery, scientific theory or mathematical method 
  • The manner of presenting information 
  • ‘Essentially biological’ processes like cross-breeding animals or varieties of plants 
  • Software that has a ‘non-technical’ purpose 

Only software with a technical purpose can be granted a patent. For example, software to control a driverless car could have a patent, while a chess playing app could not. If your invention is software, you may need professional advice whether it can be patented (for example, from a patent attorney). 

Software’s Patent In UK

As per UK and European patent law it is not possible to get patents for computer programs. This is often confused inventors that computer software is simply not patentable, but decisions of the UK courts and the Boards of Appeal of the EPO over the past ten to fifteen years have established the now relatively stable position that computer software is patentable if it provides a new “technical solution” to a “technical problem”.  

Although both the patent offices do not provide any details related to word “technical”, but the law now provides detailed guidance as to how it should be interpreted. For example, computer software which implements methods for controlling an industrial process or methods of processing physical data (e.g. data representing temperature or melting point) can be considered “technical”.  

Computer software which merely processes data internal to a computer can be more troublesome, but if that processing results in a faster or more reliable computer machine, then it may be considered technical and efficient. 

Brief Summary Of UK Approach:

UK IPO adopted an approach to identify the patentability test related to the claimed invention involves a “technical contribution”. An appeal decision involving the UK IPO and Symbian in back in 2008 stated that it is keen important to consider what does a computer program do in the reality world means in practical manner (while considering the technicality of a program).  

In one case, the invention involves a computer program which solved an existing problem by providing a sort of programming to the computer, hence results in a faster and reliable computer.  

Accordingly, it was argued that the computer program did not change the computer in any way and so it could not count as a “technical” contribution, it was decided that this was to ignore the effect of the computer program which “as a matter of practical reality” made the computer work better (faster and more reliable manner). Hence, It was decided that the computer programs were patentable in the United Kingdom. 

In a High Court decision involving AT&T Knowledge Ventures and the UK IPO, five “rules” were set out which were considered by the judge to be helpful when considering whether a computer program provides a sufficient technical contribution. These are: 

First was whether the claimed technical matter has a technical effect on a process which is carried on outside the computer device. 

Second was whether the claimed technical matter operates at the level of the architecture (e.g. processor, controller etc.) of the computer device, that is to say whether the effect is produced irrespective of the data being processed or the applications being run on that computer. 

Third was whether the claimed technical matter results in the computer being made to operate in a newly unique manner. 

Fourth was whether the program makes the computer a better computer in the sense of running more efficiently and effectively as a computer (as modified by the Court of Appeal in HTC Europe Co Ltd v Apple Inc (2013)); and 

Fifth was whether the perceived problem is overcome by the claimed matter as opposed to merely being circumstanced. 

How To Apply?

Getting an invention patented is not an easy way out, sometimes the inventor needs to seek assistance or service from a professional who is skilled in the art (like IP advisors, patent attorney or IP Firms like TTConsultants).  

As patents are a legal document that contain a technical specification. Patents are not a research paper and due to the importance of the language and format used one should either aware about the patent writing otherwise assistance is much needed step. 

The patent application should clearly define the scope of the invention in the claims and the whole patent idea must be clearly described with examples of application in the description part or we can say specification part.  

Whoever use inventors’ invention should be able to take the patent application into practice. If undue experimentation is needed to get the invention to work the patent will be found to be invalid due to not being enabled. Patent attorneys (or agents) are legally qualified and solely regulated. 

How Long Does It Take To Have A Patent In UK?

If the invention is novel and unique with some industrial capability than from the time an application is filed, the UK patent application process usually takes three to four years before the patent is granted. 

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