Patent law is an area of U.S. law that provides protection to new inventions, whether they are designs, processes or products. Established to foster innovation, it gives inventors the right to prevent other parties from using, distributing, importing or producing their inventions in the U.S. Learn more about what is involved in patent law and how it offers these protections.
What Is A Patent?
Patent law is focused on obtaining, protecting and defending patents, which are a type of property right that gives the inventor the legal power to stop other parties from selling, using or making their invention in the United States for a specific amount of time.
Patents generally fall under one of three categories:
- Utility Patents – Utility patents are the most common types of patents that inventors obtain, and they offer protection for all manner of processes and functional devices, including software.
- Design Patents – Design patents cover the aesthetic and non-functional components of a specific item. Protection of aesthetic aspects through a design patent is only offered in the United States, although other countries have their own types of intellectual property laws aimed at protecting industrial designs.
- Plant Patents – Plant patents protect new varieties of asexually reproduced plants. It should be noted that various aspects of plants, such as genes, traits, methods of cultivating, plant parts, or varieties may also be protected by utility patent protection. Still further, varieties of seeds, tubers, and asexually reproduced plants may also be protected by Plant Variety Protection through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which Metrolex IP Law Group also has experience handling.
How Can An Invention Gain Patent Law Protection?
Inventors typically work with patent attorneys to guide them through the complicated steps involved in obtaining a patent. To qualify for a patent, inventions must meet the following requirements:
- The claimed invention for which a patent is being sought must be considered “new and useful.”
- The claimed invention must qualify for eligibility in one of the statutory categories the law has defined as being patent eligible. The categories generally include machines, devices, processes and things that can be manufactured.
- The claimed invention must be novel; if another party has previously described the claimed subject matter, or another party holds a patent for the same invention, it cannot be patented as claimed.
- The claimed invention must not be obvious. The determinations of novelty and nonobviousness can be quite subjective and are determined from the perspective of someone with ordinary skill in the area of the invention. However, overcoming rejections for lack of novelty and for obviousness often require specialized argumentation that in many cases, only an experienced patent attorney has the depth of experience to provide. An experienced patent attorney may also be capable of amending the claims so that novelty and obviousness can be found.
- The disclosure of the invention must meet statutory requirements for sufficiency of the written description and meet the enablement principle, which involves the inventor describing the invention as claimed in enough detail that another party could make the claimed invention using the description provided in disclosure without excessive experimentation.
- The claims must meet clarity requirements so that the scope of the claims can be reasonably understood in order to enable the public to understand the limits of the invention.
The Rights Of Patent Holders
Patent holders (patentees) are given two main rights under the law:
The Right To Exclude
The right to exclude means patent holders can stop everyone else from making, using or selling the claimed invention. Patentees can also choose to sell the patent or set up a license agreement allowing others, who are accused of infringing the claims of the patent, to make, use or sell the claimed invention, typically in exchange for a licensing fee or a cross license, in which the patentee obtains rights in the claimed inventions of the accused infringers.
The Right To Sue Parties That Infringe On The Patent
Patents contain a series of claims, which are the parts of the invention that have been granted legal protection. When one or more of these claims are believed to be infringed (violated), the patent holder may choose to file an infringement lawsuit.
In response to a successful lawsuit, in which at least one patent claim is found valid and infringed, a federal court may most often award damages to the patentee based on the patentee’s assessment of the value of the damages.
In cases of willful infringement, and other extraordinary circumstances, enhanced damages may be available. When certain circumstances are proven by the patentee that demonstrate that monetary damages alone are insufficient as a remedy, the court may further issue an injunction ordering the guilty party to cease the infringing activity.
In the case of the import of infringing products from a foreign country, the International Trade Commission provides for an Administrative proceeding very similar to a court proceeding in which a patentee may request an Exclusion Order, which is an injunction on the importation of the infringing products and possible seizure of infringing goods at U.S. ports of entry.
The U.S. government reserves the right to use any patented invention without first obtaining permission. However, in these cases, the patent holder does have the right to request compensation from the government.
Patent Litigation vs Patent Prosecution
Patent attorneys can help carry out various legal processes related to patents. Their two main areas of activity are patent prosecution and patent litigation.
Patent prosecutors help inventors through the complex process of preparing and filing for a patent and engaging in the often back-and-forth process of obtaining a patent. Client counseling enables attorneys to assess an invention and provide an educated opinion on whether the invention as the client envisions disclosing and claiming it, can qualify for a patent.
Patent litigators, meanwhile, address issues related to existing patents, such as filing lawsuits over patent infringement and/or engaging in licensing negotiations.
Other Aspects Of Intellectual Property Law
The protection afforded by a patent is very specific and should not be confused with other types of intellectual property law. Encompassed under the broad umbrella term of IP law, the following components provide various levels of protection as an alternative or in addition to patent law:
- Copyright Law – Copyrights offer protection to artistic and written works from unauthorized copying.
- Trademark Law – Trademarks are registrations of names, symbols, logos, and sometimes other recognizable aspects that ascribe a source of manufacture to a product. Trademark protection remains in force as long as certain requirements are met and can often become the most valued form of intellectual property in the sense that the “good will” afforded by strong trademark protection can often represent the single largest source of value provided by a company.
- Trade Secret Law – Trade secrets refer to formulas, devices and methods that provide a business with a competitive edge. Trade Secret Law provides a legal framework to protect companies from the unauthorized disclosure of trade secrets to competitors, usually by former employees. Competing companies or corporate spies who steal trade secrets may face criminal charges and/or may be subjected to civil lawsuits.
- Licensing Law – Licenses can be used to give a party the right to carry out a very specific task using a work that is otherwise protected by a patent or other form of intellectual property. For example, a license may be given to a movie to play a piece of copyrighted music. Licensing law often overlaps with other areas of IP law.
Request A Patent Law Consultation With Metrolex IP
To find out more about the protections offered by patents or other forms of Intellectual Property, to discuss an invention or other property for which you wish to obtain IP protection, set up an appointment with the patent attorneys at Metrolex IP Law Group. This Washington, D.C. based firm focuses on patent, copyright, trademark filing and prosecution for a range of industries around the world.
We are also “growing” our plant variety protection practice and have experience protecting plant varieties, our most recent application involving a new rice variety.