Intellectual property is a tricky business. Companies and individuals spend many years and great amounts of money creating and developing new products which are in many instances incredibly valuable. Yet, if a company takes these products public without a patent, another business can simply take these innovations and market them as their own – which can mean years of wasted work. In no industry is this more of an issue just now as in the US technology sector. If your business has developed new and useful products or processes, it’s important to have them patented before bringing them to the market, or you could be at risk of having your intellectual property compromised.
Generally speaking, any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter can be patented. For tech companies, this includes a broad number of products and systems. Both hardware and software can be patented, although it is worth knowing that software inventions are still controversial in patent law. While software can be patented in the US and some other countries, many countries don’t yet consider software to be patentable.
Assuming your intellectual property is patentable, getting your patent application filed is the top priority; patents can take up to five years to be granted. Once your patent application is accepted, you have the right to take legal action against anyone who makes, uses, sells or imports your invention without first gaining your permission or licensing the patented invention for royalties. In other words, you will now legally own your intellectual property! Until your patent is granted, it’s important not to disclose any information about your product to third parties without first signing a non-disclosure agreement, to keep your inventions protected.
Patents are granted by national governments, and as such they are only legal in the country in which they are granted. If you file for a patent in the US, that patent will only cover your product within the US. If you’re intending to take your product overseas, it’s a good idea to apply for patents internationally as well. Within 12 months of filing your priority application, you can file an international patent application, or a PCT, which covers all PCT jurisdictions. Eventually you will have to file for a patent individually in each country you wish to have your invention patented in, and often this must happen within 30 months of filing the initial application.
Extending your patent to Europe is a little simpler. You can make one filing under the European Patent Office (EPO), and once the application matures into a European patent, you will simply choose which of the 38 member countries you wish to validate your patent in. These validations must take place within three months of the European patent grant, and translation requirements will vary between countries. The EPO is currently streamlining their patent process so that soon, just one application will automatically grant protection in 26 of the EP’s member states.
If that all sounds a little complicated, just remember that filing your patent application is the only way to protect your property from theft and mimicry. Never publish or disclose your invention anywhere until you’ve filed a priority application. For more information on how to protect your intellectual property with a patent, take a look at this informative infographic from Morningside IP.