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Henry VI of England granted the earliest known English patent for invention to Flemish-born John of Utynam through an open letter marked with the King's Great Seal called a Letter Patent. The patent gave John a 20-year monopoly for a method of making stained glass that had not previously been known in England, for creating the stained glass windows of Eton College.

Patents are used to protect inventions which are novel in that they involve an inventive step over any earlier item to be found in the course of official
(and un-official) searches. The invention should also be capable of industrial application.
A patent is a monopoly granted by the government to the proprietor of the patent for an invention which is fully described in its specification. For a limited period (currently up to 20 years and subject to the payment of annual renewal fees) no other party is legally able to make use of the subject of the patent without the consent of the proprietor. Like other property the proprietor can exploit the monopoly on their own behalf or sell, licence or lease it in a number of ways.
There are a variety of topics which are held not to be suitable for forming the subject of a patent including: a new discovery, a mathematical or scientific or business formula, work of art or literature. Similarly, new types of human, plant or animal diagnosis. Surgery or therapy would not be suitable for patenting, although a new drug would be. Intellectual property law is in a state of continuing development and what has previously regarded as unpatentable in the UK can be re-interpreted, for example, in the light of developments in the European Community.
A patent can be sought: in the UK, in individual foreign countries, in various regions (including Europe) as an international application (single application covering many countries).