23 April 2014

So you’ve registered a patent: now what?

First of all, congratulations!

According to accountancy firm PWC patent applications for computer-related products are at the lowest level in 10 years – so if you are a tech company or entrepreneur that is bucking that trend, you clearly recognise the benefits patent protection can confer.

As the proud owner of a patent, it’s likely you will be aware that …

  • Contrary to popular belief, you can obtain patent protection for software in the UK so long as the software in question makes a “technical contribution to the known art”. 
  • Your software, once protected by a patent, may be up to twice as valuable as software that is not. 
  • A patent portfolio can significantly speed up venture capital funding, attract more investors and lead to greater amounts being invested.  
  • Monopoly rights conferred by patents can help to lock out the competition, significantly increase licensing revenue streams and grow market share.  
  • Profits from patents benefit from a lower rate of corporation tax (10%) under the UK Patent Box regime.

So having incurred some considerable time and cost in applying for and obtaining UK patent protection, what next? 

Clearly you will want to obtain a return on your investment as soon as possible through sales of the patented invention, licensing the patent in return for royalties or assigning it for a one-off fee.  

Assuming you retain ownership of the patent, however, there are also certain practicalities to bear in mind. A UK patent needs to be renewed on the fourth anniversary of the filing date, and every year after that, to keep it in force – which means more fees. You can renew your patent for up to 20 years, although you can choose not to renew or voluntarily cancel the patent at any time.  

It is also good practice to ensure that you publicise the existence of your patent by prominently marking your product with the patent registration number and country of registration (or, as from June 2014, with a web address containing the same details). Although not essential, this should help to stop others accidentally infringing your patent and may help to facilitate a claim for damages if infringements do occur.  

Which leads on to the issue of enforcement.  Patent litigation is not to be undertaken lightly. As long ago as 1892, Lord Esher said in an English Court case that “a man had better have his patent infringed, or have anything happen to him in this world, short of losing all his family by influenza, than have a dispute about a patent.” The consequences today may not be quite as dire, but the warning is certainly one to be heeded.

However, there is little point in owning a patent if you are not prepared to take at least some steps to protect it, and perhaps even more importantly, be seen by others in the market to be prepared to take such steps. Monitor the competition, and step in if you suspect infringement. Typically a carefully worded “cease and desist” letter may be all that is needed to convince an infringer to come to the negotiating table and enter into some sort of licensing agreement.  

So put that patent to work – keep it up to date – be ready and willing to protect it… and you should feel the benefits.

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