Why Is a Patent Necessary?

By Thomas King

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 This is particularly true in quickly changing fields, where an invention may be outdated by the time patent protection is granted.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.

Generating Interest

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.

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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.

Public Benefit

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.

Additional Consideration

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.

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A trademark is phrase, symbol or design element that identifies the brand of a product or service. Unlike a copyright or patent, trademark protection takes effect as soon as the mark is first used in commerce, even without registration. Non-traditional trademarks include shapes, such as the trademark for the three-dimensional iPod shape granted to Apple by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in January 2012.

How to Fill Out a Provisional Patent Application

Filing a provisional patent application allows you to establish temporary patent protection without starting the patent term running. This means that once your invention is granted a patent, you may file a lawsuit against anyone who infringed your patent rights after the date you filed your provisional application. A provisional application is considered automatically abandoned after 12 months: Within that time you must file a non-provisional application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to keep your application alive.

What Happens When You Violate a Patent?

Patent rights are so important the founding fathers mentioned them in the U.S. Constitution. This respect for patent rights encourages companies to develop new technologies because the courts may punish those who violate those rights. Such punishment is commensurate with the damages suffered by the owner of the patent.

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