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A patent is an intellectual property right allowing the creator of a scientific invention to be recognised and rewarded for their work. Once registered, with one or more of the established registration authorities, a patent can be relied upon to prevent another person exploiting the invention, except under licence from the patentee.

The registration authority in the United Kingdom is the UK Intellectual Patent Office (IPO) (formerly the Patents Office).

Certain conditions must be satisfied before an invention can be patented. Under section 1(1) of the Patents Act 1977, the invention must be novel, it must involve an inventive step, and it must be capable of industrial application. An invention is “novel” if it does not form part of the prior or currently existing “state of the art”. To involve an “inventive step” it must be something not obvious to a person “skilled in the art”. (Sections 2 and 3.)

If these conditions are not met, the patent should not be registered or, if already registered, can be revoked.

Once registered, a patent normally lasts for 20 years: section 25 of the 1977 Act.

European patents are registered via the European Patent Office (EPO) by reference to the European Patent Convention and international patents via the World Intellectual Patent Office (WIPO). Most industrial countries are signatories to the International Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property (Paris, 1883) and the Patent Cooperation Treaty (Washington, 1970).


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