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Intellectual property litigation: A bit about patents

When entrepreneurs create a new product, they need to file a patent to protect their rights to it. A patent excludes other people or enterprises from appropriating their ideas for use, trade or profit for up to 20 years, so long as its owner pays periodic fees. In turn, patent owners must disclose their invention to the public in exchange for these exclusive rights.

What products can receive patents?

Only human-made inventions can receive patents. Ideas, slogans and logos cannot. Yet, not all products are patentable. To qualify, an invention must:

  • Provide utility to consumers
  • Provide novelty to the public
  • Qualify as innovative or nonobvious
  • Meet the threshold of enablement (its inventor must have the special skills required to produce it)
  • Meet the threshold of patentable subject matter

What is patent infringement?

Business owners who patent a product run the risk of infringement from competitors, of which there is two main types. Literal infringement is where an enterprise infringes upon every element of a product’s claim limitation. Non-literal infringement applies to products that bear a likeness and functional equivalence to patented items, despite small differences. Infringement can also refer to the encouragement or supplying of other enterprises engaged in these actions.

When a business discovers an instance of patent infringement, they have the option of pursuing a preliminary injunction against the infringer. This motion forces them to stop the production of the patented product before a hearing takes place. Yet, a court will only grant this injunction if the product’s manufacture creates hardship for the patent holder. In most cases, patent holders will pursue damages through a civil lawsuit. If they prevail, they will receive compensation through actual damages, which are the quantifiable financial losses caused by the infringing party. This amount may prove unprovable, though, in which case the patent holder will receive compensation through reasonable royalty. The court may also issue a permanent injunction against the infringer. This decree means they can no longer produce the patented product.

Patents establish the originality of a product and its exclusive rights to its creator. When these rights face infringement, business owners must take swift action. An attorney with intellectual property experience can help patent holders fight for their rights.