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Understanding Patent Law

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Patents are a form of intellectual property that offer an inventor exclusive rights in their invention for a fixed period of time. Rights are granted by the state to the inventor enabling them to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering for sale or importing the patented invention during that period in exchange for the inventor publicly disclosing their invention.

Countries around the world have different procedures for the registration and protection of patents but international agreements governing their use also exist.

UK Patent Legislation

Patent law in the UK is contained in various pieces of legislation including Acts, Rules and Directions. The main piece of legislation is The Patents Act 1977 which ratified the European Patent Convention. The Act also required that the Community Patent Convention and the Patent Co-Operation Treaty be taken into account.

Later laws have both amended the 1977 Act and provided more detailed guidance in relation to patents including: the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, the Patents Act 2004, The Patent Rules 2007 and The Patent (Fees) Rules 2007.

The Patents Act 1977

The 1977 Act introduced two considerations into the patent application process. It set out a number of important features that a patent application must contain for it to be successful and it set out certain features that would prevent an application from being successful.

Patentable Inventions

The positive attributes required for a patent application to succeed include:

  • The invention must be new
  • It must involve an inventive step
  • It must be capable of industrial application

Non-patentable Ideas

The 1977 Act specifically excludes certain applications, mostly for ideas that are not considered inventions. The following are excluded:

  • A discovery, scientific theory or mathematical method
  • A literary, dramatic, musical or artistic work or any other aesthetic creation whatsoever
  • A scheme, rule or method for performing a mental act, playing a game or doing a business, or a programme for a computer
  • The presentation of information
  • An invention, the commercial exploitation of which would be contrary to public policy or morality


The costs of applying for and maintaining patents can be significant. This is particularly so if litigation is likely to be involved in preventing other parties from exploiting the invention. Rollingsons recommends that inventors seek the advice of an experienced professional before making a patent application to reduce the potential risks.

If you have any questions about this article please contact James Crighton via e-mail or by telephone on 0207 611 4848.