You’ve ploughed hours of time, money and manpower into your research and development (R&D) project. You’ve innovated a new product or process. You take it to market ready to drive your industry forward...all for your competitors to copy you.
Without patents, this nightmare scenario could very well be a reality. After all, why bother bearing the costs and workload that come with innovation when you can wait for someone else to do it for you? Providing you’re a third party with greater purchasing, manufacturing or selling abilities, you could even undercut the original innovator to ensure you’re the market leader.
But, of course, in this hypothetical landscape, the desire for R&D would be sparse. Innovators would have little incentive to share their work with the public due to fear of plagiarism, meaning the evolution of industries would significantly slow.
What is a patent?
The concept of patents was born out of two fundamental factors:
- Knowledge better benefits wider society when it’s shared, not concealed
- Innovation requires incentive and reward
So, the goal of a patent is to promote the pursuit of innovation while simultaneously ensuring the knowledge and perks of the end result will be shared.
To be granted a patent in the UK, your innovation must be:
- Something that can be made or used
- Inventive (more than just a simple modification of something already existing)
How does it work?
Patent laws can be traced all the way back to the 16th century, with the Venician Statute of Monopolies suppressing all monopolies bar those of new inventions. Fast-forward to the modern-day, and the legalities and logic of patents remain very much the same.
Patents work by allowing the enforcement of exclusivity on the commercial exploitation of a novel invention - providing you’re not infringing on other patents in the process - across a pre-defined, limited time period.
In layman's terms, that means that patentees (those who apply for a patent) are rewarded for innovation through being given a ‘head start’ on the innovation’s introduction to the market; providing the idea hasn’t been previously publicly disclosed, of course. That doesn’t just mean an idea that already exists (although it is worth stressing the importance of early intellectual property check to avoid these instances) - this also means your idea has to be kept completely confidential until a patent is filed.
For a limited time, patents grant total temporary monopoly allows for companies and innovators to secure exclusive rights and deals before sharing their findings with the wider industry and public.
Of course, the operative word here is ‘temporary’. As previously touched on, any R&D project would have no benefit to the wider industry or society while kept under wraps. So, by incorporating a pre-established timeframe to the exclusivity of this innovation, there’s a sufficient monetary incentive to continue inspiring innovations that benefit everyone.
Because patents promise that, once the exclusive window of monopoly has closed, this knowledge becomes available within the public domain.
Essentially, patents serve as a contractual exchange - the right to legally enforce an exclusive temporary monopoly on the market in exchange for disclosing your innovations to the public. This creates a best-of-both-worlds situation that benefits the company conducting R&D, the wider industry and society as a whole.
Want to know more about how patents fit into your R&D project? Get in touch with the experts at Lumo - we’re always happy to help with the application process.