Inventing a new product or technology can springboard a small business into the global league.
Dyson's "The Ball" vacuum has no less than 182 different patents
Take Dyson, which invented a new way for vacuum cleaners to work.
Over the last decade it has gone from a small Wiltshire company into a major international player.
What has helped Dyson achieve such success is a firm commitment to maintaining and defending its patents.
Here, small business expert Liz Barclay explains how firms can apply for a patent.
Anna Westcott, UK
I have a product I need to patent and then try to approach someone to manufacture.
My questions are, firstly, how do I go about patenting the product. And secondly, how do I find a manufacturer?
I would be grateful for any direction you could offer. I have a certain market in mind and feel that there is a gap for my product.
Liz Barclay, presenter of Radio Four's You and Yours programme
It can take up to four years to get a UK patent and your product has to meet certain requirements:
It has to be new, there must be an element of invention about it - it can't just be a modification of something that already exists.
It must be something that can be made or used in some kind of industry - a new machine, product or manufacturing process.
It must not be something that's on the excluded list - for example, not a work of art, a scientific theory or a variety of plant.
Take a look at the patent office website - link on the right.
There you can see what work has been done on similar products and make sure you aren't wasting effort on getting a patent for something that already exists.
Once you apply to the Patent Office, you will be allocated a patent application number.
On its website, you'll see the kind of information typical applications contain.
The most difficult bit is describing your invention, but if you need help, there are professional patent agents.
Their fees can be high but they will make sure the whole process is as secure as possible.
As far as manufacturing is concerned, there are a number of different options to explore.
These range from contracting out the production to finding a partner or licensing out the rights to another company.
For more information, talk to your local Business Link - website also listed on the right.
To ask Liz Barclay a small business question, use the e-mail form below.
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