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    The Patent Office is consulting on whether businesses should be allowed a one-year “grace period” to disclose their ideas without forfeiting the right to protect them.

    Inventors often lose their claim to a monopoly right over an idea because they are unaware that British law only allows patents for inventions that are not in the public domain, the Patent Office consultation states. “Many do not realise they have an invention worth protection until they see others’ interest in it”.

    The move would bring UK law into line with the US, which allows patents to be filed for inventions up to one year after they have been publicly disclosed. It could make it easier for businesses to test the market for new products. The US system “allows products to be developed and tested without a veil of secrecy”, according to the consultation. “Market success can be judged before going to the expense of filing for patent protection.”

    But the Patent Office also points to the potential drawbacks to the change. Grace periods “increase uncertainty for businesses, who must wonder if a competitor’s technology is free to use or will later be protected by a patent”, it says.

    A grace period could also mislead inventors into thinking they have a worldwide 12 month breathing space to develop their idea. In fact, according to the consultation, “a disclosure allowed under a European grace period might still invalidate a patent outside Europe”.

    The Patent Office, which is consulting on the proposal until April 30, said grace periods were allowed until about 30 years ago.

    “Financial Times” 5th February 2002