Patents: Frequently asked questions
- What is a patent?
- Why should I apply for a patent for my invention? How do I or my company benefit from a patent?
- Can I benefit from others' patents?
- Can my invention be patented?
- Can I patent an idea?
- What does a patent protect?
- How long is a patent in force?
- How much does it cost?
- What is a utility model?
- How can I apply for a patent?
- In what language can I apply for a patent in Finland?
- Can the inventor apply for a patent?
- Who owns the invention?
- Do I need a prototype of my invention when I apply for a patent?
- Can I publish my invention before applying for a patent? When should I apply for a patent?
- Will my invention become publicly available when I apply for a patent?
- Withdrawal of patent application
- Who grants patents?
- What happens after I apply for a patent?
- How long does it take to obtain a patent?
- Where do I get help?
- How can I find out if the technology in my invention is new?
- How can I find out if the technology in my invention is already protected?
- How can I find out if the patent is still in force?
- How can I find out what my competitors are patenting?
- Can I run my own patent searches?
- What is patent classification?
- Where do I get help with patent and information searches?
What is a patent?
A patent is an exclusive right that provides you the right to prohibit others from utilising your invention commercially. Commercial utilisation means for example manufacturing, selling, using, or importing a product. Patents protect intellectual property in the same way as fences, locks and insurances protect your material property. You can sell your patent or license someone to commercially utilise the patented invention.
The patent covers a limited territory – it is in force in the countries where the patent has been applied for and granted. The patent is in force for a limited period of time, usually no longer than for 20 years from the filing date of the application. The exclusive right is in force only if the patent is in force. To maintain a patent in force, you have to pay annual fees for it.
A patent does not automatically give the owner the right to exploit the invention commercially, as there may be obstacles to doing so:
- Someone may have obtained a patent earlier which is still in force, and the later patent is dependent on that patent – it is for example an improvement over that patent.
- The use of the patented invention may require permission from the authorities – for example selling of medicinal products, manufacture and use of chemicals, waste treatment, and mining).
Why should I apply for a patent for my invention? How do I or my company benefit from a patent?
Protecting an invention is the same as protecting a property with fences, locks or insurance. Patenting means in other words that you build barriers to protect your intellectual property. For companies, patents form an important part of their strategy and business to enable them to protect themselves against imitators, and defend or gain market share.
There are many reasons why you should apply for a patent:
1. You restrict your competitors’ operations:
- A patent gives you an exclusive right to your product.
- If you have a patent, you will have an advantage over your competitors and enough time to develop your product further.
- Your competitors have to invest a lot of money coming up with other solutions if they plan to enter the same market.
2. A patent is viewed as property.
- You can sell your patent.
- You can license someone to commercially use the patented invention against payment.
- You can freely select the price for your patented products – either a higher or lower price than your competitors.
3. A patent has an advertising and image value.
- Patenting gives the impression of a high-tech company.
- A patent may boost your sales.
Can I benefit from others' patents?
Patent owners benefit from their exclusive rights as long as they are in force. The patent system is based on exchange – the patent owners get an exclusive right to the invention for a limited period, and others will get access to the patent information. Patent documents have become the most important source of technical information in the world. They cover all technical fields and have greater geographical and temporal reach than any other source of information.
Patent documents describe in detail new technical solutions, their use, and the problems in the field, so you can use the information to develop new ideas in your own R&D. The majority of technical information found in patent publications can be used freely, as most of the patent applications will not be granted a patent – only patents that have been kept in force give their owners exclusive rights.
Patents and patent databases will show you the patent rights that are in force and if there are any obstacles to marketing or manufacturing a product. To avoid infringing others’ patent rights you must know what other businesses in your field are patenting. Ignorance is no excuse in patent infringements.
Besides technical information, patent information is also commercial information – patent documents show the technology and markets your competitors are investing in. You should use patent information especially in your R&D to develop new ideas, to monitor technology and competitors in the field and to avoid patent infringements.
Can my invention be patented?
You can assess whether your invention is patentable on the basis of the following criteria: to be patentable, an invention must be novel, include an inventive step (be inventive), and be industrially applicable. In assessing the patentability of an invention, the patent examiner compares the invention disclosed in the patent claims to solutions that have become known prior to the filing date of the application (or the priority date).
The invention is new if the solution defined in the patent claims has not already been proposed elsewhere, in Finland or in other countries.
When the patent examiner assesses the inventive step, the knowledge of an average person skilled in the art is taken into consideration – a patent cannot be granted if the invention is obvious to an average person skilled in the art.
Industrial applicability principally means that the invention solves a technical problem, or that the invention must have a technical effect.
Section 1 of the Finnish Patents Act contains a list of abstract or non-technical inventions that are not considered patentable, even if they were new and inventive.
Can I patent an idea?
No, if your idea is something similar to a wish, such as ‘It would be nice to have a safe flying chair to easily get from door to door' or ‘I need a mobile phone with these features’.
A patentable invention is a concrete embodiment of an idea: a device, a product, or a process or method for achieving that target. A device or a product is defined by disclosing its structural details or composition. A process or method is defined by disclosing its process steps. You can also patent a new way to use a product, process, method or device.
What does a patent protect?
A patent is an exclusive right granted to an inventor to exploit his or her invention commercially – it gives the owner the right to prevent others from exploiting the invention. A patent protects the invention defined in the patent claims.
The invention may consist of a new process, method, device, or product, or a new way to use them. One single patent application may have claims which include all these categories as long as they share the same inventive idea.
A product claim protects a product irrespective of how it is made or used. A process claim (method claim) protects the process defined in that claim and the product created from that process, irrespective of whether there is a product claim in the patent or not. However, if the product can also be created using some other process, a process patent cannot prevent it. It may be difficult to monitor a process patent if the final product does not show the process by which it is made.
How long is a patent in force?
The patent can be in force for up to 20 years from the filing date of the application. Exceptions to this are medicinal products and plant protection products, whose patent protection may be extended for up to five years (up to 5.5 years for medicinal products for paediatric use). You apply for the extension by filing an application for a supplementary protection certificate. Read more about supplementary protection certificates.
Granted patents are kept in force by paying renewal fees annually. If the fees are not paid, the patent will lapse.
How much does it cost?
When you file your application you must pay an application fee. When the patent is being granted, a patent publication will be made first. We charge a publication fee, see our price list.
Patent applications and patents are kept in force by paying renewal fees, in other words annual fees. You must pay the first renewal fee at the beginning of the third application year.
If you use an expert, such as a patent agent or attorney, you also have to pay for their services.
When you apply for a patent abroad, you must in most cases use a patent agent or attorney from outside Finland. It is often a good idea to first use a Finnish patent agent or attorney, who has contacts in several countries and is able to give advice on patent systems in those countries.
When you apply for a patent abroad, you also have to pay for the translations, as the language of filing is the official language of each individual country. The translation costs depend on the length of the application.
You can also include the cost for the time you spent carrying out your work.
What is a utility model?
A utility model is, similar to a patent, a way to protect an invention.
A utility model is granted for an industrially applicable technical solution. The utility model can also be used to protect chemical compounds, foodstuffs or pharmaceutical products and microbiological inventions. Methods or uses cannot be protected with utility models.
A utility model is in force in the countries where it has been granted. In Finland, utility models are granted by the Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH). In Finland, a utility model is in force no longer than for 10 years from the filing date of the application.
Read more about utility models.
How can I apply for a patent?
You apply for a patent by filing an application in writing with our office, the Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH). You can file your application online or on paper.
A patent application includes:
- an application form
- a description of your invention, and any related drawings
- an abstract
- any other accompanying documents, such as a statement on the right to the invention, or an assignment document, or a power of attorney.
A patent granted in Finland only gives protection in Finland. If you also wish to have protection abroad, you have to apply for it separately using for instance the international patent system, PCT system, or the European patent system, EPC system. If you are a Finnish applicant, you can pursue your application in other countries by filing a PCT application with the PRH. You can also file your application directly with the national patent offices in each country.
You must file a foreign application within a year from your original Finnish application. You can read more about the contents of the application and about the application process in our Patent Guide (available in Finnish only).
Patent Guide (in Finnish) (pdf, 4.1 MB)
Read more about applying for a patent outside Finland.
Read more about applying online.
In what language can I apply for a patent in Finland?
The description, abstract and claims must be written in Finnish, Swedish or English. You can also write them in one or two of these languages. If you have written the claims and the abstract in only one of the national languages of Finland – in Finnish or in Swedish – they must be translated to the other national language before the application is published. If the translation is made at the Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH), you must pay a translation fee. Go to our price list.
If you have written the claims and the abstract only in English, you must submit a translation of them into Finnish or Swedish before the application is published. If necessary, the PRH is responsible that the claims and the abstract are translated into Finnish or Swedish.
When you have filed an application in English, you have the right to obtain the PRH’s decisions in English if you have requested in writing that the language of decisions is English when filing your application. You cannot change the language during the application process. If you have not requested English as the language of decisions, we will send you an office action where we ask you either to submit a translation of the patent application into Finnish or Swedish or to request in writing that the language of decisions is English.
Can the inventor apply for a patent?
The inventor, or a person to whom he or she has transferred the right, may apply for a patent. When it comes to employee inventions, inventors must first notify the employer of their invention and of their intention to apply for a patent. The inventor may not apply for a patent before one month has elapsed from such notification.
When you apply for a patent, you need to have both technical knowledge and knowledge about the patent field. It is therefore wise to use an expert, in other words an agent or attorney, in the application process. Even though it is not obligatory to use a patent agent or attorney if you live in Finland, we advise you to use them for the following reasons:
- You cannot add anything to the application after the filing date. You can only make changes to the claims during the processing of the application on the basis of what has been disclosed elsewhere in the application.
- The claims are of crucial importance to the protection of the invention – their content decides whether a patent can be granted, whether the granted patent protects against infringement, or whether the patent remains in force despite competitors’ attempts to invalidate it.
- During the examination of an application at our office, it is normal that we find publications that at first glance seem to prevent you getting patent protection. It is often however possible to ‘get round’ this obstacle by restricting your claims in the right way. A skilful patent agent or attorney is able to write the description of your application by describing the invention using definitions with which the claims can be restricted later on.
- There are many deadlines to meet when the patent application is being processed. If you miss a deadline, your application or patent might lapse.
Who owns the invention?
According to the Finnish Patents Act, the invention belongs to the inventor, but the inventor may transfer his or her right to another person.
If the inventor is employed by someone else, the employer may under the Finnish Act on the Right in Employee Inventions acquire the right to the invention. The act is applied when a person employed by someone else, or a person employed in the public service, comes up with an invention that is patentable in Finland and falls within the field of activity of the employer.
The employee’s and employer’s right to the employee invention depends on the connection between the employee’s duties and the conception of the invention.
It is the duty of the patent owner to enforce its patent rights.
Read more in the Finlex database: Finnish Act on the Right in Employee Inventions Open link in a new tab(Laki oikeudesta työntekijän tekemiin keksintöihin 656/1967)
Do I need a prototype of my invention when I apply for a patent?
No prototypes are necessary when you apply for a patent. We may ask you to submit specimens or samples when it is necessary for the understanding of the description of the invention, but this is very rare.
Can I publish my invention before applying for a patent? When should I apply for a patent?
If you plan to apply for a patent, you should not publish your invention before filing your application. You should apply for a patent at the latest when your invention is becoming publicly known (at fairs, in advertisements and articles etc.). Patents are only granted to inventions that are new – an invention that has been made public is not new and cannot be patented.
However, you also should not apply for a patent until your development process has advanced sufficiently. This is to avoid a situation where you apply for a patent and obtain a patent for a solution you have come up with at the beginning of your development process, and the patent does not therefore protect the final product to be sold.
Will my invention become publicly available when I apply for a patent?
Yes, at least if a patent is being granted. A patented invention is always public.
When a patent application is being filed, it is secret the first 18 months after the date of filing. In Finland, some identification details in the application, such as the applicant’s name, application number and filing date, become publicly available right away. Such information about Finnish patent and utility model applications is available in our PatInfo database during the first few days after the filing date. Go to PatInfo. Open link in a new tab
If the patent application is still pending when 18 months has elapsed from the filing date of the application, or from the filing date of the earliest priority application, the whole application becomes public. An abstract is printed of applications which are becoming public, and the applications are published in the L section of the Finnish Patent Gazette. International PCT applications and European patent applications are published for instance in Espacenet when 18 months has elapsed.
Go to our Patent Gazette. Open link in a new tab
Go to Espacenet.Open link in a new tab
If the national patent application has been filed with the PRH in 2001 or later, and it has become publicly available, the documents are available in our PatInfo patent register (see the link above). You can order copies of public applications filed before 2001 from our library. The copies are subject to a charge.
Withdrawal of patent application
You may withdraw your patent application by a written request, if there is no obstacle to the withdrawal in the Finnish Patents Act. An obstacle exists if someone has claimed the transfer of the application (the person claims they have a proper title to the invention). If your request can be accepted, the withdrawal becomes effective as of the day the request reaches us.
If you request for a withdrawal before your application becomes available to the public, and the PRH accepts the withdrawal, the application documents will not become public. If you want to prevent your application from becoming publicly available, you should file your request for withdrawal in good time so that we have enough time to record the withdrawal in our data system. Pending applications are automatically published online on the day they become public once that day begins, regardless of which day of the week it is. If the day is approaching, it is recommended to call us to remind us of your request for withdrawal, which you have already filed in a written form.
We will inform you whether the request is accepted or if it is rejected.
Who grants patents?
In Finland, patents are granted by the Finnish Patent and Registration Office (PRH). The European Patent Office (EPO) also has the right to grant patents that are valid in Finland. More than 100 patent examiners with an academic degree examine and process patent applications at the PRH. We will choose the examiner who is specialised in the field of your invention to carry out the examination. If necessary, our patent examiners discuss the contents of the patent application with fellow examiners.
What happens after I apply for a patent?
After you apply, we check
- that your application contains all the necessary documents (application form, abstract, description, claims, drawings)
- that the application fee has been paid
- whether the invention is patentable, in other words whether it is new, inventive, and industrially applicable.
We make sure that the invention is patentable by checking the invention defined in the claims against earlier solutions found in patent publications. Specialist literature, trade magazines, brochures etc. in the field are also used in the search.
How long does it take to obtain a patent?
The average processing time is 2.5–3 years. When the patent is granted, it comes into force with retroactive effect from the filing date. In other words, you obtain conditional protection for your invention during the application period – if someone during that period is infringing your patent that is to be granted later on, you may ask that person for compensation for the infringement.
Where do I get help?
You can get general information about how to file a patent application from our client service, and from innovation advisors who operate at centres for economic development, transport and the environment (ELY centres).
You may also contact patent agents or attorneys to prepare patent applications for you. Read more about patent agents and attorneys.
How can I find out if the technology in my invention is new?
You can search and read patent documents for free in online patent databases. Espacenet database is an excellent source of information, in particular its worldwide patent database with more than 100 million patent documents. However, free databases are not always sufficient if you intend to carry out comprehensive searches on new technologies or on the state of the art.
Read more about free patent databases.
Go to Espacenet.Open link in a new tab
You can order search services from us, novelty searches for instance. Read more about our search services.
How can I find out if the technology in my invention is already protected?
Patented inventions can be found in patent documents. When we examine whether there are any obstacles to the use of an invention, we use patent databases to find all patent applications and patents which are in force, or applications which may come into force, in the technical field in question, and in a country where the invention will be used. We then compare the invention to the claims in the patents and patent applications found. The same procedure applies to utility models, as they may also constitute obstacles to the use of the invention.
The examination of obstacles to marketing or manufacturing, in other words obstacles to patenting, requires a very good knowledge of the technical field in question, very good patent searching skills, and experience in interpreting the scope of protection of the claims. Searches can be demanding, which is why we recommend that you use an expert in the field. You can order search services from us.
Read more about our search services.
How can I find out if the patent is still in force?
A patent family search tells you in which countries an invention has been granted a patent and whether the patent is still in force. You can order a patent family search from us.
Please note however that patent databases do not include all countries in the world and the information from some countries may be incomplete. In other words, the patent family search only serves as guidance.
Read more about our search services.
You can search patent information in the Espacenet database. Go to Espacenet.Open link in a new tab
Our PatInfo database provides information about the validity of Finnish patent applications. Go to PatInfo. Open link in a new tab
How can I find out what my competitors are patenting?
The patent databases show you the patent applications and patents of your competitors, as all patent publications state who the patent applicant or inventor is. Select the database according to the country or countries whose patent information you want to search.
In Finland, the patent applicant is published as soon as the application is filed. Even if the invention in the patent application is secret, you can monitor the patenting activity of competitors using our PatInfo database before the application is published. PCT applications and European patent applications are not published until 18 months after the filing date (or the priority date). You can search patent information in the Espacenet database. Go to Espacenet.Open link in a new tab
You can also order a competitor monitoring search service from us. Read more about our search services.
Can I run my own patent searches?
You can search for patents in online databases which can be used for free or for a fee.
The databases can be divided into two groups: free online databases and commercial databases for professional use. Some of them can be used online. You get access to the databases for professional use by contacting the service provider. See for example the STN databaseOpen link in a new tab providing access to a number of databases.
The free online databases are suitable for monitoring new patent applications filed by competitors and for browsing patent publications. You can use these databases to search for technical information by carrying out simple searches to find out what is being patented in your field. Free online databases are not however suitable for comprehensive novelty searches or examinations of the state of the art due to their insufficient contents and search features.
It is possible to quickly carry out comprehensive, advanced and accurate patent searches in commercial databases. This requires knowledge about the contents and structure of the databases and their information search techniques – commercial databases are mostly used by patent search experts, and should be used to carry out comprehensive patent searches. Contact our Advisory Service for further details about the searches and about the commercial databases that we use.
Our free databases providing patent and utility model information concerning Finland
- PatInfo databaseOpen link in a new tab – basic details of Finnish patent applications, patents and utility models
- FI-EP databaseOpen link in a new tab – basic details of European patents validated in Finland
- Espacenet patent information serviceOpen link in a new tab – basic details of patent applications and patents since 1994, and patent publications in their entirety (patent information from Finland and more than 80 countries).
The databases contain patent publications in their entirety from various countries, or their identification details or abstract details, and patent family or status details. There is no single database containing all available patent information. That is why you should use several sources to carry out a comprehensive search.
What is patent classification?
During the examination, all patent documents are classified in patent classes by their content. The class indicates the technical area of the invention, and it is an important tool in patent searches. There are several patent classification schemes. Read more about patent classification under Patent classification helps conduct searches.
Where do I get help with patent and information searches?
There are several patent databases available free of charge on the web. However, searching for information can be a difficult and time-consuming task. You may prefer to ask us to conduct a search for you. We have more than 100 patent search specialists at your service.