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A Brief Introduction to Patent Law

Eric Gehler

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When a person invents something, there is an inherent risk that their invention will be copied by others. If it is copied, the rewards (financial or otherwise) for having invented the item may be enjoyed by someone other than the inventor. Prior to the introduction of patents, this risk was prevalent and inventors were often discouraged from their pursuits. To reassure inventors that their ideas would be safe from those who would steal them, the government established patent laws that protected inventors’ rights. In this article, we'll explain what a patent is, how they work and what an inventor can do in the event his patent is violated.

What Is A Patent?

A patent is a legal document that protects an invention from being used, copied, or manufactured by anyone other than the inventor (unless express permission is granted by the inventor). This protection lasts for a predetermined period of time. Once a patent expires, the invention loses its protection. There are 3 main types of patents: utility, design and plant patents. Utility patents protect inventions that involve machines, processes and biological or chemical compositions of matter. Design patents cover the aesthetic or ornamental design of articles of manufacture. Plant patents grant rights to anyone who has discovered (or created) a new plant by means of asexual reproduction.

The most common type of patent applied for and granted is the utility patent. If granted, they offer protection for 20 years (beginning from the application date). Design and plant patents are far less common. Design patents grant protection for 14 years while plant patents offer protection for 20 years.

The only person who is legally allowed to apply for a patent is the inventor. Even if the invention was created under the employ of someone else, only the inventor can apply. Once the patent is granted to the inventor, the rights can be transferred to the employer.

Recourse If A Patent Is Violated

If a patent is violated, it's the responsibility of the person or entity who holds the patent to pursue enforcement or recourse. This can become a complicated and expensive procedure. It's not uncommon for large corporations that have violated a patent to pursue the matter in court. This is especially true when a portion of their revenue is derived as a result of their patent violation. Because litigation can be cost prohibitive for many inventors, it may be worthwhile to consider selling the patent or arranging some form of licensing agreement with the company who is infringing upon the patent holder's rights.

Patent law was enacted in order to protect inventors’ rights and to encourage the continued innovation of processes, methods and manufactured items. That being said, it is a complex field of law. You should speak with a patent lawyer before applying for a patent. If you hold a patent that another party has violated, an experienced attorney can prove valuable in exploring your options.

Consider these Virginia Lawyers and Virginia Attorneys when in need of legal services


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