Patent grace period debate

February 15, 2002

United Kingdom researchers are being asked if patent law should be changed to allow an inventor to discuss or sell an invention for a limited time before filing a patent application.

The Patent Office has launched the consultation on the European Patent Law, which forbids any disclosure before filing a patent. A period of grace would enable academics to publish their research in journals and talk about their work at conferences without jeopardising their intellectual property rights.

Ederyn Williams, director of Warwick Ventures, Warwick University's spin-off arm, said a lot of academics were not used to the patenting system. "Frequently, they have already published things so it is too late to file a patent or we have to rush a patent application to enable them to give a paper at a conference," he said.

Dr Williams said that so long as academics kept rigorous formal records of laboratory work to prove they were the first to invent something, a period of grace could be very beneficial to academe.

Paul Leonard, director of the Intellectual Property Institute, said such a move would be bad for academe. "What we want to avoid in intellectual property is litigation. A grace period leads to arguments about the disclosure date and who owns the rights."

He advised academics to become more familiar with the current system.

The Patent Office's consultation includes several models for the period of grace.

Until 1973, British patent law allowed a period of grace. When it was unified with European law, this was removed. In 1998, the European Commission recommended that any period of grace should be agreed internationally.

In the United States, an inventor can file a patent up to 12 months after disclosing an invention. In Japan, a six-month period is allowed for certain disclosures.

Details: www.patent.gov.uk/about/ consultations/grace/

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