Patent Law falls under the umbrella of Intellectual Property Law, overseeing the eligibility criteria for inventions to receive patents, the patent application procedure, and the protocols for addressing cases of Patent Infringement. It aims to reward innovation by granting inventors legal protection over their creations for a certain period of years. During this time the inventor has a temporary monopoly on their creation, which they can license, sell, or build a business around with less market competition.
Securing a patent includes an extensive application and a patent attorney to be sought out to protect the clients' ideas.
An inventor seeking legal protection for their inventions should seek out a legal professional who has an understanding of patent law.
The Importance of Patent Law
When thinking about the importance of patent law, it’s valuable to consider it both from the point of view of the patent holder, and for society as a whole.
The advantage for the patent holder is they have exclusive legal rights on their invention. This means that legally they are the only entity allowed to bring such a product to market. They can also license their product out to a third party who might be better equipped to take it to market and pay the patent holder in the form of royalties.
The value of this exclusivity is it deters competition and imitation, gives the patent holder the ability to set their own prices, and can be valuable for attracting additional investment to build a business around their invention.
The advantage of patents for society encourages companies and individuals to innovate and invest in research and development. Some of our greatest advancements in technology and innovation have come from visionary inventors willing to invest the time and energy to bring their idea to fruition. Without the legal protection patent law provides, they might never have taken the risk.
Additionally, in order to receive the patent, the inventor must share detailed information about their invention, including how it’s built. This information becomes public record and increases public knowledge.
What Qualifies for Patent Protection?
Not everything is eligible to be patented. Qualifying for patent protection depends on four initial sets of criteria:
- Novelty: The invention must be new
- Non-obvious: The invention must not be something that would be obvious to anyone already skilled in the field.
- Useful: The invention has to have a use.
- Not be a natural object or process: The invention can’t be something that nature is doing on its own.
There are also four primary types of inventions that can qualify for a patent:
- Processes: Novel methods or ways of doing things.
- Devices: Machines or apparatuses that perform a specific function or outcome.
- Objects: Tangible objects created through a process.
- Compositions of Matter: Combinations of two or more chemical compounds that create something unique.
All of the above generally pertains to utility patents, which are the most common type of patents. There are also design patents, which safeguard ornamental designs, and plant patents, which protect new varieties of asexually reproducing plants.
There’s a growing debate as to whether business methods or printed materials are patentable, but as of now they are not.
The Patent Application Process
A patent law attorney should be sought out to secure a patent.
Applications are submitted to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). They thoroughly examine each application, checking to see if it meets the criteria for patentability, the description of the invention is clear and comprehensive enough, and that there isn’t already another patent on file for something equivalent.
It’s highly recommended that patent seekers perform a comprehensive search of existing patents before submitting their own application. It’s also a good idea to engage a patent attorney who can provide guidance and expertise throughout the application process.
If rejected, applicants can request reconsideration or appeal, although it could still be years before this appeal makes its way through the system.
Enforcement of Patents
The patent holder possesses two fundamental rights to protect their position. The first is the right to exclude others from making, selling, and–in some cases–using their invention. The second is the right to sue infringers.
Oftentimes the threat of a lawsuit is enough to deter any potential infringements of a patent, but that’s not always the case.
If a patent infringement is litigated in federal court, it can lead to a judicial order restraining future infringement and damages being awarded to the original patent holder.
Defense strategies for those accused of patent infringement can include arguing that the original patent was wrongly granted or that their own actions don't qualify as infringement.
In all cases, the court battles can be costly. One of the primary critiques of patent law is that entities with enough resources can often out leverage their competition to get the legal outcome most advantageous to them.
Despite these critiques, patent law remains a cornerstone of American innovation and economic growth. As markets continue to evolve, and new types of inventions come into being, patent law will have to continue to evolve to keep pace with progress.
If you’d like to learn more about patents and intellectual property law, the UC San Diego Division of Extended Studies offers a Patent Law Certificate Program. Through instruction by leading Intellectual Property and Patent Law attorneys and Patent Agents, the Professional Certificate in Patent Law teaches not only theory but also the practical aspects of working within the patent law field as well as the process of obtaining and maintaining a patent. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.