Firms warned over patents
THE legal battle between internet heavyweights Facebook and Yahoo over patents highlights how Plymouth firms must have appropriate intellectual property rights clearance before launching new products and services, a leading lawyer has warned.
Last month, web portal Yahoo began legal proceedings to sue social network Facebook over 10 patents upon which it claims the social network is infringing.
But this month, Facebook responded by countersuing Yahoo, claiming it had violated its patents covering advertising, online recommendations and photo-tagging.
Carl Steele, pictured left, a partner and specialist intellectual property lawyer at Ashfords LLP, which has a Plymouth office in Princess Street, said the case throws out a "warning to businesses".
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He said: "Facebook's recent action in countersuing rival Yahoo has highlighted the importance of UK businesses ensuring they have appropriate intellectual property rights clearance before launching new products and services.
He said: "Businesses should be equally concerned about avoiding the legal pitfalls inherent in developing and launching a new product or process in the UK."
Mr Steele said that in this country, businesses can apply to the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) for a patent covering the territory of the UK only.
Alternatively, an application for patent protection in a number of European countries, including the UK, can be made via the European Patent Office in Munich.
To be patentable, an invention must be "new", which means it is not known anywhere in the world prior to the date the patent application was first filed.
It must also involve an "inventive step", which means it must not be obvious to a person skilled in the relevant art.
The invention must also be capable of being "industrially applied", Mr Steele said.
"If you are planning on launching a new product or process, it is sensible beforehand to consider either personally conducting a preliminary 'prior art' search, or to conduct one via Ashfords or a patent agent, so as to try to ensure that what you are planning to do will not infringe anyone else's earlier patent rights," he said.
"Businesses that are proactive and think about the relevant issues before they launch a new product or process are less likely to end up on the wrong end of a claim for patent infringement.
"Those that don't may, quite literally, pay the price."