A Brief Introduction to Patent Law
A patent is a legal document that protects an invention from being used, copied, or manufactured by anyone other than the inventor (unless express permission is granted by the inventor). This protection lasts for a predetermined period of time. Once a patent expires, the invention loses its protection. There are 3 main types of patents: utility, design and plant patents. Utility patents protect inventions that involve machines, processes and biological or chemical compositions of matter. Design patents cover the aesthetic or ornamental design of articles of manufacture. Plant patents grant rights to anyone who has discovered (or created) a new plant by means of asexual reproduction.
The most common type of patent applied for and granted is the utility patent. If granted, they offer protection for 20 years (beginning from the application date). Design and plant patents are far less common. Design patents grant protection for 14 years while plant patents offer protection for 20 years.
The only person who is legally allowed to apply for a patent is the inventor. Even if the invention was created under the employ of someone else, only the inventor can apply. Once the patent is granted to the inventor, the rights can be transferred to the employer.
Recourse If A Patent Is Violated
If a patent is violated, it's the responsibility of the person or entity who holds the patent to pursue enforcement or recourse. This can become a complicated and expensive procedure. It's not uncommon for large corporations that have violated a patent to pursue the matter in court. This is especially true when a portion of their revenue is derived as a result of their patent violation. Because litigation can be cost prohibitive for many inventors, it may be worthwhile to consider selling the patent or arranging some form of licensing agreement with the company who is infringing upon the patent holder's rights.
Patent law was enacted in order to protect inventors' rights and to encourage the continued innovation of processes, methods and manufactured items. That being said, it is a complex field of law. You should speak with a patent lawyer before applying for a patent. If you hold a patent that another party has violated, an experienced attorney can prove valuable in exploring your options.