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Patenting inventions – considerations for start-ups and SMEs in a post-COVID world
5th October 2020, 11:11 am
Patents are one of the most well-known types of intellectual property (IP). However, what can be patented is often less understood by new entrepreneurs and innovators. The disruption caused by COVID-19 has introduced new challenges and pressures for businesses, especially start-ups and small/medium-sized enterprises. This is affecting how these businesses can, and should, approach patenting their innovations.
What’s stayed the same?
- Patents are used to protect inventions
This includes new products, product manufacturing methods/processes, and methods for controlling a process or analysing data. A new logo, product or company name is not patentable, as it is not an invention. Instead, these are protected by trade mark.
- Inventions must be new
Patents are a type of registered right. An invention must be new; this is assessed with respect to everything that is already in the public domain, in any format, in any language, in any country, at the time a patent is sought.
- Secrecy is important
Publicly disclosing the invention in any way, such as via a press release, an academic paper, a conference or trade show presentation, or even just talking about your idea casually, may mean a patent cannot be obtained.
- Patent holders can stop competitors from making or selling their invention
Patents do not confer a right to start making or selling a new product, or to use a new method. Rather, a patent holder has the right to stop another company exploiting his or her invention without permission.
Pre-COVID and post-COVID, the reasons for patenting an invention are largely the same:
- Secure market position and financial return on commercially successful innovations, by preventing third parties from using their patented inventions
- Obtain greater negotiating power when collaborating with other companies
- Attract investment partners and support business expansion, as they demonstrate that a company has a high level of technical expertise
As we begin to experience the effects of COVID-related disruption, start-ups/SMEs in particular may need to make difficult decisions. With limited resources and many challenges, what should a start-up/SME prioritise now?
- Delay the patent process
This can buy valuable time, to allow manufacturing to re-start, funding channels to open up once more, or lab-based development to begin again.
- Keep ideas secret
If a start-up/SME has not started the patent process yet, the most cost-effective way to protect their inventions during this time may be to simply keep their inventions secret. As long as the inventions are kept secret, a patent application can be filed for the inventions at a later date.
- Do IP-related admin
During lockdown on the movement of people, inventors may have more time for IP-related admin, which is often overlooked in busier times. For example:
- Develop processes for invention capture and protection
- Brainstorm around existing inventions to identify work-arounds or other ways their inventions could be implemented
- Writing-up existing ideas using invention disclosure forms
- Identify competitors or potential partners including R&D or commercialisation partners, potential licensees or potential problems
- Identify primary and secondary markets both now in and future
Please note that the above information is not intended to be comprehensive and should be discussed with a qualified patent attorney.
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