A Patent is a set of exclusive legal rights intended to protect a solution to a specific technological problem. The invention can be a physical product, or a method or process by which a solution to a specific technological problem is achieved. As a patent is an exclusive right, it allows the owner or an authorised party to stop unauthorised parties from making, using, distributing, selling or importing whatever is protected by the Patent.
Patents are granted to an inventor or inventors, or to an individual or organisation to whom the inventor has assigned the rights (e.g. their employer or a purchaser). The rights are granted for a limited period of time (generally around 20 years) in exchange for detailed public disclosure of how to replicate the invention. Patents are a territorial right, and can only be enforced in the territority in which they have been granted (i.e. the country or group of countries to which they apply). A UK filing will only protect your invention in the UK. Similarly, a US application will only protect your invention in the US, a European application in Europe, etc.
If you have come up with a new device that solves an existing problem or fills an existing need, or a manufacturing method that produces a desired result better than already known methods, or which solves an existing manufacturing problem, then these could be protectable by filing a Patent Application. From the moment your Patent Application is filed, your new device or method is protected, although you can only use your Patent for active enforcement against competitors once it is granted.
Filing is the first step towards gaining a granted Patent which can be actively used to block competitors from copying your new device or method, giving you a commercial advantage: you can exclusively sell or use a device that offers improved performance over what is already available on the market, or you can exclusively use an improved (patented) method to produce a better result than the currently known methods used by your competitors. You will need to keep your invention secret until a Patent Application is filed. Any public disclosure before an application is filed can severely impact on the likelihood of your Patent being granted (although there are some limited exceptions). This includes not making any secret commercial deals before the application is filed. Once your Patent Application is filed, you can commercialise your invention in whatever manner you see fit.
As noted above, Patents are a territorial right. However, filing an initial application provides a 'line in the sand'. It is possible to use this initial application as a foundation for overseas applications, as long as these are filed within certain time limits. This provides you with the opportunity to test the commercial applicability of your invention in different markets before making the financial commitment to filing in many different territories.
Your Patent Application is a legal document, and must meet a number of requirements to be valid, and for you to gain the full benefits. For example, you must disclose the best way known to you of how to make the invention work. The claims of a granted Patent define the extent of the protection of the Patent, and must be written in a way such that the invention as defined by the claims is both novel (new) and inventive (not an obvious variation on what is already known). This must be balanced against protecting your commercial device or method, and all the useful or practical variations thereof (so that a competitor cannot easily 'design around' your Patent and produce a competing, but non-infringing, device or method). For these reasons, it is highly recommended that you use an experienced professional to prepare your Patent Application. If you would like more information, or if you wish to discuss how I can assist you in preparing and filing your application, please contact me.
A Patent protects the manner in which something works. Appearance and other aesthetic details are not of particular relevance and can be difficult to protect by way of a Patent. However, these may be an important aspect of your product, and if so should be protected by way of a Registered Design.