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A simple guide to patent protection for small business

If you’re a small business owner with big ideas, protecting your innovative creations can be crucial to safeguarding your competitive edge. One of the most effective ways to do this is through patent protection.

What are patents?

A patent provides inventors with exclusive rights to their inventions for a specific period, typically 20 years from the date of filing. In return for sharing their innovation with the public, patent holders gain the right to exclude others from making, using, or selling their invention without permission.

Patent protection is valuable for a small business owner looking to protect their innovative ideas and gain a competitive edge in the market. Securing a patent can safeguard an invention, attract investors, and potentially pave the way for future growth. Navigating the patent application process can be complex, so it can be important to seek legal advice and ensure you thoroughly understand the requirements and timelines.

What does a patent protect?


You can use a patent to protect devices, substances, methods or processes. To be granted a patent, your invention must be:

  • New: It must not be known to the public.
  • Useful: It can be made or used in an industry.
  • Inventive: It must be different enough from what already exists.
  • A suitable subject matter, known as ‘a manner of manufacture’.

Why are patents important for a small business?

  • Protection: Patents provide a strong shield against competitors, preventing them from copying, using, or selling your invention without your consent.
  • Competitive edge: Having a patent can give your small business a competitive advantage by offering a unique product or technology that others can’t replicate.
  • Attracting investors: Patents can make your business more attractive to investors, as they demonstrate your commitment to innovation and your potential for growth.

The patent application process

The process of obtaining a patent can be quite intricate, but here’s a simplified breakdown:

  • Idea development: Start by brainstorming, researching, and developing your invention. Make sure it’s truly new and useful.
  • Patent search: Conduct a patent search to ensure your idea hasn’t already been patented. This step is vital to save time and resources. See IP Australia’s page on searching patents for more information – How To Search Existing Patents | IP Australia.
  • Prepare and file an application: You’ll need to prepare a detailed patent application that includes a thorough description of your invention, how it works, and why it’s unique. You can file your application with the patent office in your country, such as IP Australia in Australia.
  • Examination: Your application will be examined by a patent office examiner to determine if it meets the criteria for patentability.
  • Grant or rejection: If your application is accepted, you’ll be granted a patent, and your invention will be protected. If it’s rejected, you can appeal or make amendments to address any issues raised.
  • Maintenance: After obtaining a patent, you’ll need to pay renewal fees and comply with other requirements to keep your patent in force.

Preparing your application

If you’re trying to decide if you should go ahead with a patent, you could file a provisional application in the meantime. It doesn’t provide you with protection yet, but it gives you 12 months to decide whether to go ahead with a standard patent application.

If you decide to go ahead with an application, you will need to write a specification. A specification describes what your invention is and how it works in detail. There are strict requirements to follow – for more information and some templates to help you, see How To Write A Specification | IP Australia. If you’re a small to medium business, you could also be eligible to use IP Australia’s free patent case manager service.

If you’d like legal advice or hands-on help with your application, you should consider engaging a patent attorney.

Key points to remember

  • Timing is crucial: Patents are time-sensitive, so it’s essential to apply as soon as possible after inventing something new and keep it a secret until you apply.
  • Keep records: Maintain thorough records of your invention’s development, including dates, drawings, and notes. This documentation can be valuable in the patent application process.
  • Seek legal advice: Consulting with a patent attorney or agent can help you navigate the complexities of the patent system and increase your chances of success.
  • International protection: If you plan to sell your invention internationally, consider seeking patent protection in other countries to safeguard your rights in foreign markets.

So, if you’ve got a brilliant idea that could change the game for your business, consider patent protection. Visit the IP Australia website to understand how a patent can support your business’ success, and how to apply for one.


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