Overview of Patent Law

Patent law is a form of intellectual property. A patent is a grant from the government to an individual or organization of exclusive rights over an invention or discovery for a limited amount of time in exchange for the invention been disclosed to the public. The patent gives the inventor the right to prevent others from interfering with the invention. People are not allowed to make, sell, use, and offer for sale or even import the invention. Patent terms usually are 20 years from the filing date which may be extended through the Patent Term Adjustment and Patent Term Extension. The rights of patent can be sold, assigned, licensed or transfer if the inventor so wishes.

There are three classifications of patents in the United States which include: utility patents, design patents and plant patents. A utility patent may be granted if someone invents or discovers “any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof”. A design patent may be granted to someone who invents “a new, original, and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. Last, a plant patent may be granted to someone who “invents or discovers and asexually reproduces any distinct and new variety of plant.

In order to acquire a patent, a written application has to be filed with the relevant patent office. The application will describe in detail how to make and use the invention. Also, the applicant should include the claims in the application. Claims address what the applicant wants to protect. Expressly stating what the owner wants to exclude others from making, selling, or using. The claims cover “the scope of the protection”. Upon completion of the application, the patent is pending until it is confirmed that certain requirements have been met.

There are remedies for patent owners whose inventions have been infringed upon. The patent is usually enforced through a civil lawsuit. The inventor or assignee of the patent will ask the court for monetary damages for the infringement and will ask for an injunction to stop all future infringement activity. In order to prove an infringement case, the patent owner must show that the accused infringer engages in all the requirements of one of the claims presented in the patent application. However, courts have often declared patents invalid.

Even more, patent licensing agreements and contracts may be formed where the patent owner agrees not to sue the licensee in return of some form of compensation. Thus, patents can be enforced through litigation in which the defense would be invalidity of the patent or patents can be subject to a licensing agreement.

An infringement does not occur just because a person thinks about an invention. If research is conducted for commercial purposes, rather than “purely philosophical” reasons, it would be consider an infringement. However, research conducted to obtain approval from the Food and Drug Administration for the production of a generic version of a patented drug is not an infringement.

Patents help secure a person’s invention or discovery for a limited period of time. It could be consider a right to monopolize to a certain degree. However, the government is in control of who receives patents and who does not.


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