An Introduction to Patent Law in the UK

An introduction to patent law in the UK, explaining in plain English what a patent is.

Patents are important to protect new inventions, they can be protected worldwide or in just one country. Patents are made for people to make money on their invention, the protection is limited to 20 years. After this anybody can produce goods using the same or similar invention, this is to allow for competition and not create a monopoly. This article provides and introduction to Patent Law in the UK.

Patent Law in the UK is covered by the Patents Act 1977 which implemented an EC Directive harmonizing the laws across Europe.


The Patents Act requires any new inventions to be a new invention, it can't have existed before the invention was created. It must also have an inventive step. Here the law will test for obviousness, i.e. the inventive step must have been inventive and obvious to someone with knowledge and experience in the subject at hand. Finally, it must also be capable of being made or used in industry.

There are exceptions to these requirements so that it doesn't overlap with copyright law in the UK. For example, literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works and the presentation of information, or some computer programs are excluded and cannot become a patent. There are also other exceptions including, a scientific or mathematical discovery, theory or method; a way of performing a mental act, playing a game or doing business; an animal or plant variety; a method of medical treatment or diagnosis; and against public policy or morality.

Duration of Protection

The duration for the protection of patents in the UK is 20 years, this must also be renewed every 5 years. After this period of 20 year other people are free to produce or copy the invention. The reason why the term is set to 20 years is because the creator should have enough time to reap the rewards of creating his invention, his intellectual property. 20 years is more than enough time to get a market lead on any invention and has been at this length for hundreds of years in the UK. Even the first patent issued by Henry VI in 1449 lasted for 20 years and it was called a letters patent. The creator invented sealing an envelope with a wax seal with the recipients details.

Benefits of Protection

The owner of a patent enjoys protection from manufacture, copying, import and selling your invention without your permission. In most cases the patent alone is enough to deter others, but the owner is also entitled to legal action should anybody infringe the intellectual property rights. He can seek damages for any infringement on his patent.


A patent can be registered in the UK alone, through the UK Intellectual Property Office, or in as many countries as you want or can afford! There is a fee for a patent application and renewal, this fee varies from country to country but isn't cheap, in the UK it is about £300 for a patent application including a patent search. If you want patent protection in many countries around the world this could total in the thousands.

There are many rules to remember when searching for a patent and applying for a patent. These will be discussed in separate articles.


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Rama lingam
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Posted on Mar 4, 2011
Jerry Walch
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Posted on Mar 4, 2011