Monday, 21 April 2008

Leeds Inventors Group 16/4/08 - Jane Lambert

“So You Think You Want a Patent?” Jane Lambert, Patent Barrister
Leeds Inventors Group 16 – 4 – 08

Jane began her talk with a story which should serve as a warning to anyone who thinks that gaining a patent is an end in itself. She told of a couple who had saved up for many years in order to travel the world, only for the husband to spend most of the money obtaining patents. Their dreams of travelling were gone and though the patents had been granted, the product they protected never reached the market.

The opposite of that, of course, are those people with good ideas and marketable products who don’t protect them with a patent. But it’s always important to remember that a patent is essentially a tool to enable the owner to take legal action against an infringer. Such legal action is very expensive – particularly in the UK. Jane gave some examples of enforcement costs, ranging from £150,000 to over £1 million.

Jane gave a detailed description of the application process and the procedure in the case of an infringement.

One of the things which came out of the meeting was that some people don’t realise that once a patent is granted it can still be revoked at any time. To have a patent granted the invention must be new – something which has not been disclosed anywhere in the world ever before. Obviously there is no database or search system which could determine this with absolute certainty so the grant of a patent means that the invention is regarded as being new as far as the examiners are aware at that point in time. This can always be challenged at any point during the life of the patent. 50% of patent cases which go to trial result in a judgement that the patent should not have been granted in the first place.

It is because of this that patent insurance can be important (this was a subject discussed in more detail by Mark Philmore of MFL Insurance Brokers in February’s Inventors Group meeting). It is also possible now to get an opinion from an examiner at the UK Intellectual Property Office (the Patent Office) on validity before going ahead with an action. Insurance can also cover confidentiality agreements.

Jane pointed out that the process of getting a new product from the idea stage to actual production is likely to involve a lot of people – searchers, legal advisors, product developers etc. All are specialists in their own area and inventors should always be wary of anyone who claims to be able to offer a service which does everything. One of the big advantages which multinationals have is that they have large teams of all these specialists in-house. Jane stated that intellectual property protects businesses rather than individuals – it is regarded as a big part of a company’s assets.

And inventors always need to take a realistic view of how they protect their invention – it is often not practical or financially viable to gain patents in all countries. This is one reason why the vast majority of patents are held by companies. Jane pointed out that even Microsoft can’t afford to protect all of their Intellectual Property rights.