Since a patent confers exclusive legal rights concerning the exploitation of an invention, it allows the owner the best opportunity to profit from the invention by preventing others from copying it. An inventor does not need a patent in order to exploit an invention; but without a patent the inventor would not be able to prevent others from copying the invention.

Inventors and sometimes companies are often not in a position to produce or market their invention from their own resources. Patents, being a form of commercial property, provide a basis for owners to:

  • negotiate with potential investors or other business partners while preserving their intellectual property rights;
  • license someone else to manufacture the invention on agreed terms, or
  • take legal action against people who are using the patented invention without permission.

The prospect of gaining profits from this special form of protection serves to promote research activity and to give an incentive for new investment. Income derived from a patented invention which has been granted following substantive examination for novelty and inventive step and the subject of R&D may be eligible for special favourable tax treatment.

To Patent or not to Patent

If your company has developed a new or improved device, method, process or substance, a decision on whether to apply for a patent should be part of your company’s business strategy.

You should consider:

What commercial benefits can be gained and if the return will outweigh the time effort and money required to obtain and maintain the patent.

  • In what countries are your markets and who are your competitors.
  • Would a patent monopoly lessen the risk of someone infringing your patent.
  • Do you have the financial resources to obtain patent protection in the countries in which you intend to market your invention.
  • What would the consequences be if someone else independently developed the same or very similar invention.

Having considered the issues, you may decide that filing a patent application is not the best option for your company.  If it is a process, you may decide to keep the invention a trade secret.

  • Alternatively you might decide to try to be first to the marketplace and publish/advertise details of your invention. This will prevent someone else obtaining a patent for it and therefore obtain a commercial monopoly.  However, competitor firms would be free to reverse engineer it or use it for their own benefit.

To patent or not to patent is a decision that needs careful consideration.  Obtaining a patent can be a complex and costly procedure.  A patent specification is a legal document and requires specialist skills to draft properly. Your chances of obtaining a useful patent are much greater if you use a patent attorney.  So before taking a decision you should consider consulting a registered patent attorney


It is extremely important to keep your idea confidential until it is protected. If you are speaking to others about your idea, use a confidentiality agreement to prevent them from disclosing your idea without permission. The Intellectual Property Office of Ireland will not disclose or make public your invention until 18 months after the filing date or priority date - whichever is earlier.

A common mistake made by researchers, inventors and companies is to reveal their invention before applying for patent protection. If you have made your invention public, you could lose the possibility of being granted a patent.

Accordingly, it is absolutely essential that you do not disclose your invention outside your company before you file for the patent. Examples where people have 'slipped up' and potentially invalidated their own patents include:

  • releasing marketing and advertising materials,
  • putting a product on the market,
  • testing the market before launch, discussing plans with customers or showing them prototypes,
  • publishing an article or research paper which discloses the invention,
  • revealing the invention on television,
  • discussing the invention in a pub with friends.

Any conversation you have with a patent attorney or solicitor is confidential, so anything you say will not count as revealing your invention early.  However, don’t assume conversations with advisors or others are automatically confidential. Before engaging in discussions with a potential business advisor, partner, investor or manufacturer, you should first ask them to sign a confidentiality agreement. This means they have to treat what you tell them in confidence. A patent attorney, solicitor or legal advisor can prepare a confidentiality agreement for you.