The main statute regulating patents in the UK is the Patents Act 1977.

1. What can be protected?

In order to be patentable, an invention must be new, involve an inventive step and be capable of industrial application.

There are a number of exceptions to patentability.Under s.1(2) PA 1977, the following are not patentable inventions:

  • a discovery, a 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 business, or a program for a computer;
  • the presentation of information

In addition, under s.1(3) PA 1977, a patent may not be obtained for an invention whose commercial exploitation would be contrary to morality.

2. Duration of protection

A patent can last up to 20 years from the date of filing, as long as it is not revoked and is that renewal fees are paid regularly.

Supplementary Protection Certificates (SPCs) are available for patents which protect the active ingredients pharmaceutical or plant protection products. To be sold in the UK, regulatory approval is needed. Since, obtaining a marketing authorisation or product licence can be a lengthy process and SPCs compensate for this time. SPCs are not an extension of the patent term but gives similar protection. It can last for up to 5 years.

3. Infringement

A patent gives its owner a right to stop other people from reproducing or commercialising the invention without the inventor’s authorisation. It is a negative right rather than a positive right.

4. Other information

i. Non-disclosure agreement (NDA)

Non-disclosure agreements should be used when discussing your ideas with third parties. A good NDA restricts the use of the ideas and information to a specific permitted purpose. This should be as precise as possible from the beginning as the restriction can later be widened but not narrowed.

ii. European Patent Convention (EPC)

Patent applications under the EPC can be made to the European Patent Office (EPO). Applicants can select as many countries which are part of the Convention for their patent to be in force in.

iii. Unitary Patent

The Unified Patent Court (UPC) Agreement has been ratified by the UK but cannot come into force until ratified by Germany. When it does, patent applicants will be able to apply for a Unitary Patent. UPs will provide patent protection in all countries which are members of the Agreement.