What is a Patent?
A patent is a type of intellectual property granted to the inventor of a new and useful invention. There are three types of patents: utility, design, and plant. Briefly, a utility patent covers inventions that include machines, processes, articles of manufacture, and compositions of matter; a design patent covers ornamental designs of an article of manufacture; and a plant patent covers distinct and new varieties of a plant. “To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts,” a patent represents a bargain between the inventor and the United States government where the inventor is granted a patent for publically disclosing how to make and use their invention. On a more practical level, a patent provides the patent owner a time-limited right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the patented invention. Furthermore, there is an avenue for the patent owner to exclude others from importing the patented invention into the United States. This limited period of time spans 20 years from the filing date of applications for utility and plant patents. Patents for designs, however, have a different time period that spans 15 years from their grant date.
For the inventor, obtaining a patent is important for a number of reasons:
1) Protection against theft or copying by a competitor. For example, if the inventor pitches the invention during a presentation, then any party attending this presentation may attempt to copy and sell the invention or apply for a patent to the invention themselves! With a patent in hand, others are put on notice that the patent owner can enjoin those who make, use, or sell the patented invention without the patent owner’s permission. The patent owner may collect damages from such individuals known as infringers in a court of law.
2) Establishing a competitive advantage. The time-limited right to exclude others helps to clear space in the marketplace with respect to the scope of the patent as defined by its claim(s), thus providing the patent owner a competitive advantage to sell their invention and establish marketshare. This advantage may further help the inventor to forge brand identity and establish brand loyalty to their patented inventions and other products.
3) Licensing opportunities. The patent owner may enter licensing agreements with other parties to permit them to make, use, or sell the patented invention often in exchange for royalty payments. These licensing agreements may be governed by exclusivity or non-exclusivity, timeframes, milestone events, territoriality, and other matters.
4) Sale opportunities. As with other types of property, a patent owner may sell their patent to others.
5) Attract investors. The ability to obtain seed funding may hinge on whether a patent application has been filed, where it has been filed, and if there are any opportunities to file in other countries with competitive markets. To be viable candidate for funding, investment groups oftentimes require at least a filed patent application.
6) Not to become an infringer yourself. In March 16, 2013, central provisions of the America Invents Act went into effect, which made the United States a first inventor to file jurisdiction. This means that the first inventor to file obtains the patent. In a competitive field, multiple parties may be working independently of each other towards to a similar patent-eligible product. The first party to file an application for a patent and have that patent issue may make the other parties infringers even if these other parties file patent applications one day later than the first party. This patent may be disastrous to the other parties if the patent covers a core product.
These reasons illustrate the importance of obtaining patent whether the inventor is an independent inventor, a member of a startup, or part of an R&D team at an established business. Please feel free to contact us to discuss the patent process with regards to your invention.
Disclaimer: This post is for general information only, and thus does not serve, represent, or can be construed as any legal advice. No attorney-client relationship is formed.