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Am I allowed to copy patent specifications?

The ownership of the copyright in patent specifications changed with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The rules are as follows:

Patent specifications published before 1 August 1989-

Copyright in these belongs to the Crown but in normal circumstances no steps would be taken to enforce that copyright (notice of this was given in our Official Journal (Patents) on 25 June 1969). You would be allowed to copy these patent specifications freely but on the understanding that if the privilege is abused, for instance by copying for the purpose of selling them on, then the government may take action.

Patent specifications published on or after 1 August 1989-

After the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA) came into force, Copyright in patent specifications belonged to the applicant/proprietor (the Intellectual Property Office (IPO) though may copy and publish these as required by sections 16 and 24 of the Patents Act). The copying and issuing of copies to the public of patent specifications for the purposes of ‘disseminating information’ is also not an infringement of copyright. A notice of this general authorisation of such copying appeared in our Official Journal on 5 December 1990.

This means that you may freely copy UK patent specifications for the purpose of ‘disseminating the information contained in them’. If you were to copy the whole or a substantial part of the specification for any other purposes, such as marketing or sales, this could be an infringement of the copyright (unless the use fell within one of the exceptions to copyright).