What happens when a Patent expires?

Patents are one of the most common ways in which businesses can protect their investments in research and development. They provide legal ownership of an invention, deter others from stealing or copying your ideas, by enabling legal action to be taken against those attempting to cash in on your concepts.

Once granted, a patent can be renewed annually for up to twenty years from its date of filing. When a patent reaches its twentieth anniversary it expires and the holder can no longer claim exclusivity on its usage. It is worth remembering that even in cases when a patent does reach the end of its lifespan, it does not necessarily mean that a business rival can immediately enter the market and start cashing in your latest business ideas.

It is important to remember that few products and inventions remain fixed. Over time and in response to changing manufacturing techniques, consumer demands and market forces it is highly likely that even relatively simple inventions will naturally evolve. Consider, for example, mobile phones used today, compared with those in common use during the 1990s.

All patents which were granted on mobile phone technology prior to 1995 have now expired and although it would theoretically be possible to reproduce the phones in common use during the early 1990s without fear of breaching a patent, the ways in which the technology has evolved means that it is highly questionable whether a business could successfully cash in on the lapsed patents available in the public domain, compared with the latest smartphone.

The ongoing legal disputes between some of the world’s largest mobile phone manufacturers in court rooms around the world, go some way towards illustrating the importance not only of securing intellectual property on a design, but also continuing to protect investments made in research and development.

This is particularly important when it comes to filing new patent applications, as each new ‘inventive step’ can be patented in its own right, allowing many different aspects of an invention to be protected. Securing multiple patents can also mean that even if an earlier patent expires, the latest developments added to the product will continue to be safeguarded from being plagiarised.

At present, there are can also be financial incentives to encourage businesses to protect their intellectual property. The Government’s Patent Box scheme, launched in 2013 enables businesses to benefit from reduced Corporation Tax liabilities on patented inventions. However the rules governing the Patent Box are changing and it is worth noting the scheme is expected to close to new entrants in June 2016.

When should I consider registering a patent?

Launching a new product can be one of the most exciting steps that any business can take. It can mark the culmination of months or even years of meticulous planning and preparation.

So imagine discovering a rival offering an almost identical product just a few weeks after your launch. You suspect that your designs have been copied. It is a scenario that every business dreads.

Registering a patent can help to protect one of your greatest assets: your intellectual property. Applying for a patent not only helps to deter would-be rivals from copying your idea, but perhaps more importantly, it gives you protection and rights under the law.

When a patent is applied for, patent attorneys draw up a specification for the product, allowing it to be filed with the patent office. They will also undertake a series of searches for similar designs, helping to establish whether a patent can be applied for and also identify whether any similar designs currently exist in the market.

In the UK, all patents are registered with the patent office, meaning that if a rival has copied your design then it can be extremely difficult to defend their actions in the courts.

If the design is found to be unique then a patent will be granted. This effectively prevents any other business from copying your design. Some organisations choose to file patents at every level of development, often regardless of whether or not the company is planning to further develop the technology. This is often done to try and make it difficult for a rival to produce a similar product without first negotiating use over the design.

In some cases it can also be possible to enter into arrangements to licence your product, potentially developing new avenues of generating revenue. In some business sectors, this is quite a common practice, as one technology may be dependent on another. It can therefore offer a chance to generate additional revenue from the research and development work undertaken by your business.

It is worth remembering that if your design is successful then it is likely to attract rivals, so start considering ways to protect your ideas from the earliest possible time – helping to save you both time and avoiding what can often be lengthy and expensive court room battles.

Take advantage of the Patent Box

Protecting ideas and inventions through patents has always provided important legal rights to businesses but the Patent Box Scheme, which came into effect earlier this year, now means that companies can also benefit from a number of tax incentives.

Announced in the 2012 Budget as one of the Government’s key measures for businesses, the Patent Box was developed to encourage companies to invest in and successfully commercialise research and development.

The scheme came into effect in April and allows businesses to reduce their Corporation Tax liabilities on profits generated through patented inventions. To qualify for the scheme a company must own, a granted patent, and must have made a significant contribution to the development of the invention.Companies can also qualify for the scheme if they hold an exclusive license to sell a patented product or invention.

Some industry experts predict that the provisions made through the Patent Box will result in a surge of patent applications as companies look towards making savings on their tax burdens. However, as a patent cannot be included in the scheme . Since it can take several years for a patent application to mature into a granted patent, it might be worth checking patents already owned by your business; it is possible they might cover products you are selling that you presently believe are not protected by a patent.

Patent Attorneys can review the patent portfolio owned by your business and advise whether a product is eligible for the Patent Box scheme through your existing patents as well as advising whether new patent applications are required.

It is not uncommon for businesses to file multiple patent applications relating to similar ideas or inventions. In this way different aspects of a product or process as can be protected as the invention continues to develop, making it more difficult for the idea to be copied by rivals.

This can mean that, even in cases where a patent application has been filed and awaiting examination, the product may already be protected under previously granted patents, allowing your business to benefit from the Patent Box provisions.

Although the tax incentives offered through the Patent Box scheme may be attractive, it is essential that the most appropriate forms of protection are put in place. Working with a patent attorney can help to ensure that your products, processes, services and brands receive the right form of protection both in the UK and international markets.

Please note that the content of this article is provided for general information purposes and does not constitute legal advice and we always recommend consulting a qualified patent attorney to discuss specific intellectual property matters.

To find out how Howard can help your business call 0114 218 0653

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