If you're launching a business on the strength of an idea or concept, considering a patent should be one of your first steps.
While it's not always essential, there are many examples of entrepreneurs losing out from not getting their product patented.
Patents can protect you when there's something truly unique about your product.
However, if you've just thought of a new way of marketing an existing product, or made only slight alterations to one, there's no need to spend time chasing a patent. You should push ahead with your business idea free from the financial and time constraints the patent application process presents.
It's important to remember, even when patents are well drawn up, they can be worked around and you may regret the effort of tracking one down.
This guide details the time and cost of gaining a patent and will let you choose if it's something your business needs before getting started.
When filling out the three forms from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), memorably called Form 1, Form 9a and Form 10, you must include a description of your invention.
This description needs to be as clear and complete as possible. If you're going to end up in a costly legal battle, or if another entrepreneur finds their way around your patent, it will be because of a flaw in its description.
Although you will have opportunities to amend it later on, it's best to get it as close to right on the first attempt.
You'll need to highlight your 'inventive step' clearly and clarify this is what you're patenting. Too vague a description will lead to challenges while not being definite in your invention will let others benefit from it.
While it's free to start an application for a patent through the IPO, processing the application through three stages of forms will cost at least £230.
Then there are renewal fees, which grow year on year, and that's before you even consider what would happen if someone were to challenge your patent. If a dispute was not resolved out of court, it could cost in excess of £200,000.
After the forms are submitted, you have a year to conduct market research and locate funding. If you do not take any steps within this year, your application dies.
In this year, you can pay search fees and take your application to the next stage. This involves examiners checking your application and searching to confirm the originality of your invention.
Once this search is complete, the final examination will take place and, after further payments of £170, your patent can be granted.
Throughout the arduous journey, you are recommended to use a patent agent. These are in a position to ensure the legitimacy and success of you patent.
In Britain, all patent agents must be on the Register of Patent Agents and can be found through the Chartered Institute of Patent Agents.
While this will be expensive, it can be worthwhile in order to secure the legality and correct wording for your patent. You will also be advised on if the patent needs to be taken overseas, and how likely it is your patent will be successful.
After receiving your patent, yearly renewal fees must be made on a sliding scale. These start at £50 after the first year and lead up to £400 for the twentieth and final year.
To put the time into perspective, the whole process could take up to four and a half years, from the forms originally being processed, to the patent being granted.
If you want to carry out some research independently, a good place to start is the Patent Information Network which can be found in libraries in major cities.
However, be sure of both your need for and the likelihood of achieving a patent before investing more of your time and money in the idea than you can afford.