Scientists contest - European
THE EU CONTEST AND YOUNG SCIENTIST COMPETITIONS
people know that when they write something, whether it is
a piece of music, a poem, or a text for an article or a book,
their work is protected by copyright. Protection is more or
less automatic and free from the date the work was created.
However, the protection of ideas of a technical nature (such
as the vast majority of projects entered into young scientist
competitions) is dealt with under patent law, which is very
different to and rather more complex than copyrighting. Few
participants in young scientist competitions seem to give
much thought to the commercial potential of their project.
They are too busy concentrating on scientific and technical
details. This may be a fatal oversight, however, as patents
cannot be applied for retrospectively.
paper is intended to give very general advice in order for
young scientists to start thinking about the subject of patent
protection before rights are lost by accident rather than
by consent. It is not meant as a substitute for the specialist
advice available from patent attorneys and organisations such
as inventor associations and national patent offices.
in young scientist competitions should be aware that their
projects are their own property. The legal term for this is
"intellectual property". It can be protected by various means
such as patents, copyright, and registration of designs or
trademarks. Of these, patenting is perhaps the most relevant
means for protecting young scientists' projects. Many projects
are of commercial interest. By legally protecting their intellectual
property, exclusive rights are secured which may eventually
lead to financial gain. The granting of exclusive rights is
not in itself a guarantee of commercial success, the invention
must either be used profitably itself or sold or licensed
to someone else. Intellectual property rights may also serve
to attract the attention of potential investors and confer
prestige on individuals or an organization.
participation in a young scientist competition leads to ideas
"being made available to the public." Legally this doesn't
mean that a product or service has actually to be offered.
In fact it is enough if an idea is demonstrated or exhibited,
as is usually the case at a competition. The exact legal effect
of this may vary from country to country, so it needs to be
carefully looked into on a national basis. However, contestants
should be aware that, in most cases, a project which has
been "made available to the public" before filing a patent
application, can no longer be patented. It is therefore
critical that contestants either apply for patent protection
of their intellectual property before entering a young
scientist competition, or make a conscious decision not
to, in the knowledge that they will then lose their intellectual
property. Before this decision has been taken and acted upon
it is important to avoid the pitfall of making details of
the project "available to the public" by other means, such
as by press releases etc. Even just discussing a project with
someone can count as making it available to the public - so
keep it secret!
often young scientists are deterred from patenting by misconceptions
about cost or how complicated the procedure is. The cost of
patenting is meaningful only when compared to the potential
financial gain to be made from the patent. Contestants interested
in patenting should therefore investigate the market and develop
an idea of the commercial worth of their invention. Enquiries
should then be made into national and international patenting
costs, starting at the information department of the national
patent office. Generally costs break down into three areas:
those of the patent office(s), legal representation and translations.
Some national offices offer special advice and reduced fees
to participants in young scientist competitions. It is particularly
important for young scientists to appreciate that, generally
speaking, patent costs are low to start with but increase
with time. This means that it is relatively inexpensive to
"get a foot in the door", buying time in which to fully assess
the potential market for the project and consider the commercial
viability of a patent. Whilst not usually obligatory, it is
recommended that contestants make use of a patent attorney.
Lists of these are normally available from national patent
offices. Patent attorneys are highly qualified specialists
with a technical or scientific background. They assume much
of the responsibility for processing the patent application,
hence the young scientist does not have to worry about the
complexities of patent law.
as well as looking into the financial value of a patent, contestants
should try to establish whether their idea, or something similar,
has already been patented. Many national patent offices and
patent libraries offer assistance in this area. It is also
possible to use the Internet to conduct simple searches for
patent literature in the databases of national and regional
patent offices. The esp@cenet service of the members of the
European Patent Organisation and the online patent databases
of the US Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) are good starting
points. Further details may be found on the websites of the
relevant patent offices.