Once there was a time when, if you wanted a patent for a certain country, you had to apply for a patent in that same country. That’s no longer necessary – although that doesn’t necessarily mean the process has become easier. Though it’s been possible (since 1978) to apply for a European patent (which is valid in many countries), there are still many formalities to go through.
It costs money and time, but you are sure that there are many countries that will recognise your invention as your intellectual property if your patent is approved. The advantages? Well, for one thing, your invention is not just recognised as yours, it also becomes a commercial property that you can sell or legally prevent other people from using. Here’s European patents 101: your all-important guide.
What’s a European patent?
A European patent is a patent that is valid in all countries which are members of the EPC (European Patent Convention). It’s an effective alternative to getting patents in each and every one of these countries – which is time-consuming and often very costly to do. The patent requirements – and the requirements for application and grant – are very similar to those for the UK patent.
Who can apply?
Any person or company can apply for the European patent. However, the application needs to be done by someone who either has a business or residence within the European territories – otherwise a representative from within those territories needs to be engaged on your behalf.
Should I apply?
If you are planning to use your invention in several countries – and want to be protected there – it’s definitely worth applying (assuming it is commercially viable, of course). It’s also a good idea to apply for a European patent if you want to claim priority over an earlier application (for example, in the UK).
How to apply?
Certain documents have to be filled in, and the application must be accompanied by the necessary documentation (you can make the entire process easier by making use of special patent application software). Here are just some of the things that need to be submitted:
- Name and address of applicant, as well as request for patent
- A description of the invention, documented with drawings if possible, and a description of the claims you are seeking
- An abstract, and a claim for a search.
Once your patent has been granted (and this may take some time), it is recognised in multiple countries, and can therefore be enforced in those particular countries – meaning that nobody will be able to use your patent without your permission (under penalty of law) and that it is a commercial good (you can sell it should you choose to do so). Legally speaking, it means you can sue anyone who breaches the patent laws and claim damages. It means you own it. It means you have a monopoly on it.
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