Patent protection is a government-issued intellectual property right that allows the patent owner to prevent others from making, using, selling, or offering to sell products and services that are covered by the claimed features of the patent. Having said that, a patent does NOT give the patent owner the right to make, use, sell, or offer to sell products and services that are covered by the claimed features of the patent. In other words, a patent does not give the right to do anything other than prevent other people from doing things. It’s also worth mentioning that a patent is only enforceable in the country that granted it, and only during the specified patent protection period. There are three basic types of patents, and each offers protection for inventions that fall into different categories. A utility patent protects a process, a method, a machine, a manufactured device, or a composition – or an improvement to any of those things. A design patent protects the ornamental design embodied in, or applied to, an article of manufacture. And, a plant patent protects an invented or discovered asexually-reproduced plant.
How do you obtain patent protection for your invention? Well, first, you must verify that the subject matter of your invention is patentable under the patent laws of the nation in which you are seeking to enforce your patent. In most parts of the world, for a utility patent, your invention must be new, useful, and non-obvious. Now, having said that, in patent offices throughout Europe, the non-obvious feature is referred to as an inventive step. With this in mind, an inventor often engages a search professional to perform a patentability search to determine whether an invention is non-obvious or required an inventive step. Then, with favorable results to the patentability search, an inventor will typically hire a patent professional (a patent lawyer or a patent agent) to prepare and file a patent application with the patent office of the nation in which he or she is seeking protection. Once filed, the patent professional will advocate for a few years on behalf of the inventor to get the broadest possible protection, and the patent examiner will work to ensure that the inventor does not get more protection than his or her invention deserves based upon the prior art (prior publications that are relevant to the subject invention). Eventually, the patent examiner will grant or reject the patent application. If the patent is granted, as long as the periodic maintenance fees are paid, the life of the patent will be approximately 20 years from the date of initial filing or the date of priority.
While each country has its own body of intellectual property law, the life of a utility patent is typically twenty years from the date the patent application was filed, or from the priority date, whichever is earlier. To have this life of 20 years or so, the patent owner is required to make timely periodic maintenance fee payments.
How can patents benefit your business? Well, keep in mind, a patent gives you exclusivity throughout the term of the patent; the power to prevent your competitors from making, using, and selling products and services containing your patented technology. As a result, you have the power to be the only source of that product, giving you substantially more control over pricing, margins, distribution channels, and customers.
Also, you can also license or sell rights to your patent. Imagine the margins on licensing revenue. No costs associated with production, delivery, customer service, or any business infrastructure. You’re selling ideas.
You can also use your patents as a shield against patent infringement. Before bringing a lawsuit against you, smart companies will analyze your portfolio to assess whether you have the right patents to strike back against them. If you do, they’ll be inclined to negotiate a cross license, or walk away.
Additionally, you can leverage your patents to bring in investors. Savvy investors appreciate the power of patents and place high value on the right patent portfolios. And, just as savvy investors appreciate the value of patents, so does the marketplace. Ultimately, the right portfolio can increase shareholder value.
How do Design patents compare with Copyrights in the US? Well, the first key difference is that Design patents must be integrated with an article of manufacture; with a product. This not the case with copyrights. If you draw a picture, you can obtain copyright protection for that alone, whereas with Design patents, you must first integrate that picture with a product.
The second key difference relates to their duration. Simply, copyrights have a much, much longer life. A copyright can last for the life of the author plus 70 years, as compared to the 14 years for a Design patent.
The third difference is in the manner in which you establish infringement of your copyright versus infringement of your Design patent. With copyrights, you must prove copying. With Design patents, you must only prove substantial similarity. Even if the defendant never saw your Design before, never copied it, they can still be liable for infringing your Design patent. Basically, if an ordinary observer finds the allegedly infringing Design to be substantially similar to the Design patent, it’s probably patent infringement, even if they absolutely did not copy.