About Geoff Dallimore

Geoff started working as a patent attorney in 1999 for a large UK firm. After 10 years working for companies including Yahoo and Accenture, he decided to go freelance. He now supports individual inventors and small businesses at heavily reduced rates to help them get a good start protecting their IP.

Brexit and European Patents

EPC map

EPC Member States

On 23 June 2016, a referendum over the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union returned a vote of “Leave”. There is still no clear sign of what will happen as a result of this vote, but some statements about the future of European and UK patent law can be made.

The key question is what will happen to the relationship between the UK and the European Patent Office? What effect will Brexit have on patents granted by the EPO? The short answer is, reassuringly, absolutely nothing.

This fortunate clarity over the future of obtaining patent protection in Europe arises because the EPO is not an EU body, but a public, international organisation. The European Patent Convention is an international treaty between 38 different countries, far more than the membership of the EU, with countries from Turkey to Iceland being signatories to the EPC but not EU members.

The EPC came into effect in 1977 after almost 30 years of development and negotiations. The so-called “EPC 2000”, a mammoth overhaul of the system, took 7 years to formalise and did not come into effect until 2007. That this work will not all be lost as a result of Brexit is cause for a huge sigh of relief.

Possibly less fortunate is the proposed EU Patent. This is a movement, which can be traced back to the 1970s, for the EU to have its own Unitary Patent – a single right covering the whole of the EU – rather than the fragmented, national patents granted under the EPC. Serious work began on developing it in 2009 and major breakthroughs were made in just the last year or two.

The UK has a key part to play in bringing the Unitary Patent Convention into effect, being one of the top three EU countries in terms of granted European patents. Whether they will play their role or whether the whole system will now be put on hold until after Brexit actually takes place (assuming it ever does) is an open question.

Though the granting of patents in Europe and the UK will not be affected by Brexit, infringement and enforcement will be affected in many small ways. Various EU Directives and Regulations have attempted to harmonise the effect of granted patents across the EU, and it is yet to be seen which of those will remain effective in the UK in the long term. However, it can be expected that no major changes will take place.

Overall the message is Don’t Panic. Even with Brexit, the well-trod path to obtaining patent protection across Europe will remain in place. All that has changed is an indefinite delay to the planned super-highway that was to run alongside it.

UKIPO sending scary letters to inventors

scanned letter

UKIPO letter

I have always made it my practice to praise the level of service that the UK Patent Office (or Intellectual Property Office) offer to lone inventors.

When an inventor chooses to submit their own patent application, the letters they receive from the IPO are very different from the bland notifications sent to registered patent attorneys. I have been pleasantly amazed by the level of support offered when copies of these letters have crossed my desk.

So I was shocked when I saw the letter to the right. I am guessing this is a standard, boiler-plate letter sent to all lone inventors. Click for the full-size version.

This letter was sent to an inventor a week after submitting a patent application complete with full description, claims and decent figures. The IPO had performed a formal examination of the application, finding no problems with format or appearance, but had not yet carried out a detailed technical examination. Despite having only passing knowledge of the application or its contents, the advice from the IPO is soul-destroyingly negative.

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How to write a patent description

This is part of a series of articles on the basics of writing a patent specification. The full series covers the description, claims, drawings and abstract. The overview article and starting point is “How to write a patent specification“.

The series uses a silly, fictional invention as an example: a rotary cutter for shearing sheep. This is probably a terrible invention but, in reality, most are.

The description is the meat and bones of a patent specification. It describes what the invention is and what it does, it explains what its advantages are, and it describes variations and modifications that could be made to the core idea. Importantly, it must provide sufficient information to enable a skilled reader to make the invention. You cannot patent an invention and also keep its essential details a trade secret.

A common error when writing the description is to put everything in vague or overly general terms. The motivation behind this error is the fear that precision means that a competitor could easily work around a granted patent with a minor modification. But vague writing hobbles the whole specification and reduces the chances of obtaining any granted patent at all. The key is to write with clarity and precision and then to build carefully crafted generalities onto that solid foundation.

A description is made up of three main sections, the Background, the Summary and the Detailed Description.
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How to write a patent specification

If there is any part of the patent process where you should get good, professional advice, it is in writing the patent specification. It is easy to get wrong and difficult to fix later. That can leave you with a useless patent or no patent at all.

But understanding how a specification is written is important if you are trying to protect your invention. The specification describes your intellectual property and you need to understand it to really know what the patent protects.

This guide introduces the process for crafting a patent specification. Every inventor should read it whether or not they can afford to get a professionally drafted patent. For those who cannot afford professional advice, it can point you in the right direction to write your own specification.

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Patents and how to get them

A patent is one form of intellectual property (IP). It turns an intellectual idea into a piece of property that can be bought and sold just like a physical object such as a car or a house.

Another person cannot take your car or enter your house without your permission: that would be theft or trespass. There are many laws which tell other people what they can and cannot do with your physical property.

In the same way, there are many laws which tell people what they can and cannot do with your intellectual property. For a patent, one important law is that another person cannot make or sell a patented invention without the patent owner’s permission.

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