Patent protection can be expensive. Moreover, the process takes time. Thus, it may not be feasible or in your interest to patent an invention. This is particularly true in quickly changing fields, where an invention may be outdated by the time patent protection is granted. There are, however, some situations where a patent may be necessary.
A patent grants the patent holder exclusive rights to make, use and offer for sale the patented invention within the United States. Moreover, a patent grants the patent holder exclusive rights to import the invention into the United States. Thus, if you want to bring a suit and collect damages for infringement of these rights, you will need to patent your invention.
A patent may be necessary to generate interest in a new business. Patents show potential investors and employees that a business is serious. Moreover, obtaining a patent or portfolio of patents can help show viability and a certain degree of expertise.
Cross-licensing refers to an agreement where one party grants its license(s) to another party in exchange for that party's license(s). Many companies build up their patent portfolio for the sole purpose of being able to settle infringement claims by cross-licensing. For example, if company A sues company B for patent infringement, company B can offer company A use of several inventions which it owns the rights to in exchange for company A's dropping the suit and allowing company B to use the invention that company B originally infringed upon.
Patent protection is temporary. Utility and plant patents are granted for 20 years from the date you apply for the patent. Design patents expire14 years from the date you are granted the patent. Thus, the public is made aware of patents, which may include important technological advancements, which they will someday be able to use freely, in advance. This allows the general public to prepare accordingly. Moreover, innovation can be costly and time-consuming. Patents encourage innovation by allowing innovators to obtain the rights to their invention and potentially recoup their development expenses.
Provisional patents can be filed with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A provisional patent provides temporary protection (one year) while you gather the funds necessary to file for a regular patent or while you conduct research to determine whether your invention is worth patenting.
References & Resources
- United States Patent and Trademark Office: Patents
- Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers: The Benefits and Costs of Patent Protection
- Massachusetts Institute of Technology: Practical Advice for Entrepreneurs
- Business Week: When Do You Really Need a Patent?
- United States Patent and Trademark Office
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images