A patent may be granted for a device or machine, a substance, a process or computer hardware and software, and even some business methods – in short, almost anything commercially useful.
For a patent to be granted an invention must:
- the possibility of commercial returns outweighs the time, effort and money required to acquire and maintain a patent
- the limited monopoly a patent offers would help mitigate the risks of IP theft in the markets you are interested in
- you have the resources to manage your intellectual property
- a thorough search reveals no other similar technology
- you own the invention and have kept it a secret.
Filing your application via a patent attorney can greatly reduce the risk of serious mistakes and improve the commercial value of your patent.
There are several reasons why you may not want to file a patent. Being first to market may be worth more to you than a patent. Lodging a patent tells the whole world what you’re working on. Some inventors of products with short life-cycles often seek to establish a market leader position before competitors can react. In these cases a trade mark may be a valuable asset as it protects the name of the product and the values consumers relate to that name.
For inventions with a limited market value, the cost of getting and maintaining a patent may not be justified. Your invention may have a limited market or may only be useful in countries where it’s difficult to secure patent protection.
Even if your invention is patentable, keeping a trade secret via confidentiality agreements can sometimes be a better strategy. The main benefit of trade secrecy is that it can exist for as long as the information remains confidential, whereas patents and designs have a limited monopoly term. This type of strategy is only worthwhile if the product is difficult to reverse engineer (which means that it is difficult to find out exactly how it is manufactured).
If your invention is new, not publicly disclosed and has commercial potential, then you are ready to consider what type of patent will suit your needs. A registered patent is valid for 20 years.