Can Products Be Similar Without Violating Patent Laws?

By Shelly Morgan

Products can be very similar without violating patent laws because patents do not protect products. Patents protect inventions. This subtle distinction explains why very similar products do not automatically violate patent laws. If you believe your invention is so similar to another that it might infringe on the invention, you should consider consulting legal counsel or an online legal service because the penalties for infringement can be very steep.

Products can be very similar without violating patent laws because patents do not protect products. Patents protect inventions. This subtle distinction explains why very similar products do not automatically violate patent laws. If you believe your invention is so similar to another that it might infringe on the invention, you should consider consulting legal counsel or an online legal service because the penalties for infringement can be very steep.

Definitions

There is no clear legal definition for the term "invention." Turning to the law is not particularly helpful because patent law states, "The term 'invention' means invention or discovery." The term clearly does not refer to a product. Often patents describe products, but the claimed invention is a single element in that product.

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Patentability

An invention can be patented if it is novel. Even if something similar exists, an invention is patentable if the elements in it are not obvious. For example, cameras and cell phones are known technologies. However, the combination of the two was once not obvious. Even though cell phone cameras are similar to other cameras, they appear in a combination that was not obvious .

Public Domain

A product can be similar to another product without violating patent laws if elements in the first product are based upon patents that have expired. For example, there are many similar preparations of Lisinopril, a drug commonly used to treat hypertension. None of these drugs violates a patent law because the original patent for Lisinopril has long since expired. Under these conditions, the invention is in the public domain.

Similar but Different

Products can be similar without violating patent laws if the inventions that underlie both products are different. For example, computers by Apple share similarities to computers by Dell. However, the individual elements that make up an Apple are sufficiently different from the elements that make up a Dell. RAID systems provide another excellent example. A RAID system is a type of memory used in large servers. There are hundreds of different patents for RAID systems, each configured differently.

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How to Patent a Product When a Similar Patent Exists

References

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Patent Eligibility

The purpose of a patent under U.S. Federal Law is to protect an inventor by preventing others from making, using or selling the patented invention in the United States or from importing the invention into the U.S.To be eligible for a patent, an invention must be, at a minimum, novel and non-obvious. Additionally, inventions also must be useful in order to be eligible for a utility patent.

Examples of Patents

President George Washington signed the first American patent granted to Samuel Hopkins in 1790 for a product used to manufacture fertilizer. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office now recognizes more than six million patents. A legal patent protects the use of the invention by other Americans and residents of countries recognizing international patent laws.

Basic Facts for Getting a Patent

Patents were so important to the founding fathers that Article I, Section II of the Constitution includes the patent and copyright clause. This clause gives Congress the power to “promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.” This clause enabled Congress to found the U.S Patent and Trademark Office, also known as the PTO. Once a patent is granted, the patent owner may enforce it by filing a patent infringement action against anyone who makes, uses, or sells the invention without his permission.

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