What is a patent?

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How does a patent translate to money for the inventor, and how is it normally enforced? Let’s say that you invent the McCormick Reaper. Ok, so you get the basic design down. What happens when someone makes an iterative improvement? What then? Do you simply get a cut of every copy of the mechanised reaper bought and sold that is your version?

Do patents apply only for commercial usage?

In: Technology

A patent is a temporary legal monopoly. If someone else wants to copy your design, they need to license it from you (which you can charge for). That’s normally how the inventor gets money. You don’t have to say yes. If they use it without a license, you can sue them for patent infringement.

If they make an iterative improvement it depends if they’re still using whatever aspect you patented. The whole point of good patent lawyers is to write patents that are hard to circumvent that way. If they’re infringing your patent, even if it’s an iterative improvement, you can sue them. If they find a way to get around your patent, you have nothing.

They don’t explicitly just apply to commercial usage, but if it’s not commercial then you have a hard time showing damages…you can sue them, but you weren’t really harmed so it’s more of an empty gesture.

A patent gives you a temporary monopoly on that invention. Either you can use that to sell it without any competition and earn profits, or, you can give other people a license to sell it and you earn royalties from charging them for the license. You can charge a flat fee for a license if you want, but often people negotiate to get a cut of the profits. You can also sell the patent rights to someone else instead of just giving them a license, so the patent holder isn’t necessarily the inventor.

If someone produces, sells or imports your invention without a license, you can sue them for patent infringement, which might mean they have to pay you any money they made from your invention.

Someone who improves an existing invention can apply for a new patent on the improved version. They will have the monopoly on that version.

To simplify even further, a lawyer once told me that a patent is a license to sue.

Specifically, to sue someone for using the idea that Pat and offers you protection for.

From a non attorney:
Patents can be monetized through licensing (allowing someone to produce and brand your design for a fee/royalty) and can keep your competitors from copying your design through litigation (although this is extremely time consuming and expensive). In order for someone to be awarded a patent on your design they have to show that they improved upon it somehow and the improvement is both novel (truly unique/new) and non obvious (someone skilled in the art/has a through understanding of the product/field of study wouldn’t think that is an obvious evolution. It also has to enhance the utility of the product/design in other words you can’t just add a a few LEDs and say that its a new product. So yes if you had a licensing agreement you could be built in such a way that you get a royalty for each unit sold but it could also be a flat fee etc.

What do you mean by only for commercial usage? The point is to keep people from manufacturing and selling/distributing your product/idea.

A few things to keep in mind:

* Design patents are powerful as are trademarks and copyrights. Obviously that is very broad and won’t apply to all situations.
* If its only patented in the US its protected only in the US but it is fairly easy but expensive to spin that US filing into a PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty) filing and file simultaneously in any country that is a member of the PCT.

Again not a lawyer but picked a few things up over the years.

Hope this helps.

There is another important part of a patent: A patent requires the inventor to publicly disclose the details of the invention. In fact, the term originates from the Latin word patere, which means “to lay open”.

Most patents are effective for 20 years. After the patent expires, other businesses are allowed to copy the invention. A good example of a patent is the plus-shaped directional pad (D-pad) on the Nintendo Entertainment System controller. This patent was issued in the 1980s, so it expired some time in the 2000s. As a result, every other game system had a controller with a D-pad that was slightly different from Nintendo’s D-pad.

Alternatively, an inventor can choose to hide the details of the invention and trust that competitors will be unable to reverse-engineer it. This, of course, is known as a “trade secret”. Perhaps the best example of a trade secret is the Coca-Cola formula. When a bottle of Coke lists the ingredients, one of the ingredients is “natural flavors”. No one outside of The Coca-Cola Company knows exactly what these “natural flavors” consist of. Many people have tried to recreate the Coca-Cola formula. Obviously, The Coca-Cola Company will never publicly confirm whether someone successfully cracked the Coca-Cola formula.

The advantage of trade secrets is that they do not expire, so long as the trade secret is not disclosed.

You’re in elementary school. You have a talk about keeping the parks and environment clean from waste. You raise an offer to open a cookie stand in the park and put an empty open trash bin next to you, and give a free cookie to anyone who puts their waste in it to reward them for keeping the park clean. The problem is that you don’t have the resources and the necessary cooking knowledge for opening a cookie stand, but luckily for you one of your classmates does, and they volunteer to open it.

At year’s end, the principal decides to give your classmate a medal for operating the stand. You’re glad it worked, but you’re a bit disappointed for not receiving a medal as well or at least any form of material reward. You wish – “if only I had a way to guarantee that if someone puts my idea to action I would at least get some reward for coming up with it…”

That thing, is a patent 🙂

(Well, literally)

Person 1 patents a device that does A, B, and C.

Person 2 patents a device that does does C, with D and E improvements, and lists Person 1’s patent in the application.

Person 2 needs to pay Person 1 to fully utilize his patent, that is make and sell his devices.

Person 1 needs to pay Person 2 if he wants to use those improvements D and E on the devices he sells.

How is it enforced? Person 1 catches Person 2 for selling his devices containing technology C, and sues him. Reverse, Person 2 can sue Person 1 if he caught him using D and E in his. In this case, if D and E were valuable enough, they’d probably just cross-license, they both sell, nobody pays each other.

Now this is theory. In actual court it can get really, really messy.

Person 1 can actually have no desire to make his device. He just had an idea and patented it. His device isn’t all that useful with A, B, C, but he has a patent. Person 2 independently invents a D, E device and patents it, but Person 1’s patent is written so broadly it could be stretched to cover a part of Person 2’s device, sort of an assumed C.

So Person 1 sits around and does nothing, and sues anyone who comes close to using A, B, or C in their devices. Often the other people will just pay him off because it’s cheaper than the millions it costs to litigate a patent dispute. This is called a patent troll.