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Physical & Digital Collections

Patents: About Patents

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What is a patent

A patent protects your invention and lets you take legal action against anyone who makes, uses, sells or imports your invention without your permission. When patent protection is granted the invention becomes the property of the inventor, which like any other form of property or business asset can be bought, sold, rented or hired. Patents are territorial rights: UK patents will only give the holder rights in the UK and rights to stop others from importing the patented products into the UK. 


Patents are not just abstract concepts; they play an invaluable, practical role in everyday life. By rewarding ideas, patents encourage the development of innovations and new technologies in every field.

What can I patent

The legal requirements for an invention to be patentable are:

  • novelty – at least some aspects of the invention must be new and not described elsewhere in the public domain
  • non-obviousness – the invention could not have been predicted by someone working in the field
  • industrial applicability

If you have a potential invention and want to consider whether to patent, contact Cambridge Enterprise to explore if they can help you take it forward.

What can't I patent

You cannot patent certain types of invention, including:

  • literary, dramatic, musical or artistic works
  • a way of doing business, playing a game or thinking
  • a method of medical treatment or diagnosis
  • a discovery, scientific theory or mathematical method
  • the way information is presented
  • some computer programs or mobile apps
  • ‘essentially biological’ processes like crossing-breeding plants, and plant or animal varieties

Why do they matter?

A patent can be a valuable source of technical information that may not be disclosed or published elsewhere and they often contain information on new advances earlier than via publication. They are an important source of prior art and could help you avoid duplication of research effort. They can help you identify experts in your field. They can also provide information on new products or new research areas.

Researchers who ignore the patent literature risk missing important documents and could therefore waste time and money by duplicating previous research.

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