If you are a patent owner, or a business holding rights in a patent, you may encounter patent infringement, which is a complex legal matter. In order to understand patent infringement, however, you must have a basic understanding of patents.
What is a patent?
A patent gives an inventor property rights in the invention. This right allows the inventor to prohibit others from "making, using, offering for sale, or selling the invention in the United States." Patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office and are granted for a period of 20 years. This means that an inventor with a patent has holds a government issued monopoly on that invention for a period of time. The patent system was intended to encourage new inventions and the disclosure of new inventions.
What is patent infringement?
Patent infringement basically occurs when an individual or business uses all or part of a patented device, process or idea without permission. When someone uses, makes, sells or offers to sell a patented invention without the owners’ permission, that person is infringing on the patent. When considering patent infringement cases, courts rely heavily on the claims contained within the patent. These claims explain the innovation and scope of the invention and also serve to define what would be an infringement on those claims. Simply put, it amounts to stealing ideas, either for use or profit. It sounds simple, but in order to sue for patent infringement, you must first determine who is responsible.
The Different Types of Patent Infringement:
- Direct infringement: According to 35 U.S.C. § 271, direct infringement means that a person or business makes, uses, sells or offers to sell any patented invention within the U.S. or imports the patented invention into the U.S. during the period of the patent. In this form of patent infringement, the infringer does not need to know that a patent exists for the patent owner to sue him or her
- Contributory infringement: Contributory infringement deals with material protected under patent law, but makes a third party responsible even if he has not directly infringed, but has contributed to the infringement of a patent. Someone accused of contributory infringement must know he is participating in the infringement of a patent and must make material contributions to the infringement. Some examples of this include giving others access to the protected product, selling or importing a patented part into the United States knowing that it violates an existing patent, or in certain cases, providing a part that is part of some other machine covered by a patent.
- Inducement: This means that one person induces another to directly infringe on a patent. Generally, in inducement cases, the patent owner must establish certain elements to support a claim of inducement. The accused must have actively encouraged the infringement. It must be shown that the accused knew of the existence of the patent; communicated with someone else with the intention to infringe the patent, and that the patent actually was infringed. The issues in inducement cases are complex and have come before the courts many times. For example, in Global-Tech Appliances, Inc. v. SEB, S.A, 2011, the Supreme Court defined the mental state necessary to hold a defendant liable for "actively inducing" infringement.
Your intellectual property is a valuable asset and must be protected. It is critical to understand the scope and meaning of the claims in your patent, because those will establish the protection your invention receives under the law. If your patent is threatened by infringement, an effective defense will protect your property rights and business operation. Our experienced professionals are highly qualified to handle these complex issues. If you have questions or are concerned about possible patent infringement, contact our Houston business lawyers today. We are industry leaders in intellectual property protection and patent infringement defense.