A patent is a monopoly granted by the government for a new invention. The monopoly gives the owner exclusive rights to exploit the invention during the term of the patent. A patent can therefore be used to provide a market edge by preventing competitors from using your invention. Alternatively, the patent can be sold or licensed to another party in order to generate revenue.
In order to be patentable in Australia, an invention must be of a generally functional or technical nature, and must be both “novel” and “inventive” (or “innovative”).
The term “novel” simply means that the invention must be new; that is, information about it must not be publically available. It is therefore extremely important tokeep any invention confidential until a patent application is filed, as an inventor’s own display can make an invention no longer novel.
There are two types of patents in Australia: a ‘standard’ patent and an ‘innovation’ patent. A standard patent (which can last for up to 20 years) requires the invention to be ‘inventive’; that is, to not be obvious when compared with other previously known inventions. An innovation patent (which can last for up to 8 years) is available for inventions which are clearly new and improved, but which may not meet the technical test for being ‘inventive’.
A trade mark is any sign used to distinguish products of one trader from those of another. Company names, product names, logos and slogans are all examples of trade marks. Other ‘signs’ such as colours, sounds and aspects of packaging may also function as trade marks, and may be protected in some circumstances.
Registration of Trade Marks provides for easier enforcement of your rights against other parties who may be using your trade mark, or a similar trade mark. Registrations provide protection for 10 years at a time, and can be renewed indefinitely as long as the trade mark stays in use in the market.
A registered design is a monopoly granted by the government for a design as applied to a product. The “design” is the visual appearance of the product; for instance, the shape. A registered design therefore protects the way a product looks, rather than the way it works.
A registered design can provide protection for a period of up to 10 years. To be registered, a design must be both new and distinctive at the date of filing the design application. As with a patent, a design may be considered not to be new if it has been published prior to the filing of the application, and it is therefore important to keep any such design confidential. To be ‘distinctive’, a design cannot be substantially similar in overall impression to a previously published design.