Patents and Intellectual property
This is a vast area to cover and many pages can be written about it so I am giving the most relevant information to start with.
Contrary to the popular belief, you do not 'copyright' and idea by following some procedure with the patent office. You are the owner of your copyright from the very time that you illustrate your ideas. The matter here is to be able to demonstrate that you created the idea and when (date). For this purpose, it is always advisable to keep a log book of your invention progress with a date and signature on each page and/or to record your drawings with a date on them.
The famous © date symbol is often used to announce that you are the owner of that idea and since when.
Copyright works better in some fields than others. It is ideal for music and graphic material as it essentially covers the (aesthetic) sound and look of things without reference to mechanical or electronic performance. For this, see patents below. For 3D items, the copyright is limited protection as it covers mostly the 2D look of it and it omits variations of shape and the like. For this, see Design registration below.
An example of a product that can be covered by copyright is a printed cover for a mobile phone. The printed cover has an illustration created by the designer.
B- Design Registration
This cover does require a procedure with the Intellectual Property Office. It is a step up from copyright as the procedure gives you a dated certificate of registration and the forms clarify exactly what design and shape you are protecting.
Many inventors file their own registration application as it is not as involved a process as that for a patent.
This protection is suitable for designs that are not functional enough to merit a patent specification. With this method you cover the aesthetics and shape of the product. Examples of this are vases, cups, presentation boxes, jewellery and the like.
This is the most involved method to protect an idea. However, it is not an easy thing to obtain. You need to apply to the Intellectual Property Office, with forms, drawings, description and claims (what you want protected which you say is original). You need to be able to demonstrate that you have innovative functional features that have a mechanical, electronic, mathematical, chemical, logistical or similar technical content. The patent office decision to grant a patent is a tough one and they want to discourage unrealistic ideas. You need to be able to demonstrate that it can work. They also try to avoid granting patents where they not sure that the idea is really original. Many patent applications are dismissed on the basis that they are not original enough even if they can work.
In the past, they used to give patent to all kinds of unrealistic ideas. You may have seen copies of ridiculous Victorian patents published for fun. However, the Intellectual Property Office has become a lot tougher. Also, they get inundated with patent applications as there are many more inventors now than before.
The one advantage of the above procedures is that they have been brought together in one group in the European Union. This means that the IP protection you get in one EU country is also valid in other EU countries. Imagine the nightmare, in the past, to apply for a patent in every single European country, let alone the rest of the world.
Another beauty of the patent system, is that you can file a provisional application and leave it for 1 year before you have to go ahead with the more expensive process to apply for a full patent in the UK, Europe and rest of the world. This gives you one year to try and take your idea to the market and have some certainty that it is worth investing the money in the patent. If you are granted the full patent, the date of the patent is that when you filed your original provisional patent application. This applies world-wide, at least in the countries that have signed the international patent agreements.
One thing that I advise to my clients is, in the haste to protect their idea from being copied, many inventors apply for a provisional or full patent too early. This creates some problems: one, as the inventor develops his idea, the original idea in the patent changes substantially and renders the original patent invalid and/or he finds out, with time, that there are other previous products claiming similar inventions and he did not specify an idea that was sufficiently different; this invalidates the original patent specification too and/or he runs out of time (one year goes quickly) and he has not gone far enough into the development and marketing effort for him to know if he should invest in the full patent application.
Before rushing to apply for a patent I advise my clients to keep their idea quiet and disclose it to selected people who can really help, only. The use of NDAs and Confidentiality letters goes with this approach. Wait for the patent application until it is really necessary to make an application.
I am able to introduce patent agents to my clients, I work with them putting together the specifications and doing drawings for the patents, I assist in keeping records for copyright purposes and I also help putting together applications for Design Registration.
I am also able to advise my clients on the type of protection they should get for their idea and when to do it.