Perils Facing Unrepresented Individual Inventors

21 April 2017

A newly launched consultation on statutory fees for patents in the United Kingdom offers an insight into the sometimes-mysterious practices of individual inventors.

UK fees overall are very competitive internationally. The consultation proposes changes aimed at altering the method that the IPO recovers its costs, with a view to encouraging better filing practices.

Traditionally the up-front costs for applying for a patent are kept low to encourage innovation: and the costs associated with granting the patent, for example the time spent by the Examiner, are recovered through the payment of renewal fees.  The consultation proposes altering the balance between up-front fees and renewal fees.

IPO analysis notes that a high volume of applications is filed, yet relatively few applications result in granted patents. Given the high volume of applications and few granted patents, the opportunity to recover costs through renewal fees (not due until grant) is diminished.

From the consultation, the IPO appears to be concerned at the practices of individual inventors who file without the advice of professional representation,

The application fee does not have to be paid at the time the application is filed. This, together with the current low level of patent application fees, can encourage the filing of applications which are very unlikely to result in a granted patent. Often these applications are filed not by businesses but by individuals who are convinced they have invented something new, when they have not. Research by the IPO has shown that only 4 to 6% of applications filed by unrepresented individuals actually make it through to grant.
Such applications can require additional examiner and support staff resources to process and consider the application, with very few applications actually resulting in a granted pa-tent. For example, IPO analysis has shown that in one year over 3000 applications were filed by just 10 individuals – only 3 of which resulted in a granted patent. These 3 patents were kept in force for only a few years after grant. Of the 3000 applications, application fees were only received on 51 of those applications.
– UK IPO –

As the UK IPO receives about 23,000 patent applications a year, it is evident that those 10 individuals referred to had a material effect on patent practice.

The problem with the present system is stated to be that:

Applications of this type are consequently diverting support staff and examiner resources away from applications which are more likely to result in a granted patent. This contributes to backlogs of applications and delays in processing.
– UK IPO –

Rather than targeting the problem applicants however, the changes proposed will hit both represented and unrepresented applicants.

The proposals made in the consultation document, if implemented, would make it more prudent for inventors to seek professional advice, as the changes could make structuring the patent application incorrectly an expensive mistake.
In addition, our analysis of UK IPO statistics shows that represented applicants are more than 5 times as likely to have a patent application go through to grant than unrepresented applicants. Part of this success is in the skill of patent attorneys in negotiating the patent system: and part is in providing objective advice as to patentability, so that inventors do not waste their time on inventions that do not stand a chance of being granted.

Our attorneys make use of their technical backgrounds together with their knowledge of UK and International Law, to advise on patentability and the processes to secure a granted patent, including providing estimates of costs and setting realistic expectations. Contact us to find out more about how we could help you.

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