There may be few things more frustrating for a business than discovering that someone else is using your patented invention for his or her own financial gain. Another company may be selling a product or offering a service that uses a device your company designed and manufactured. It may not be identical, but if the similarities are striking enough, you may have cause to claim patent infringement. Patent infringement is a federal crime, and it can damage your business.
There are several different types of patent infringement, including:
- Direct: Someone manufactures your patented product without permission
- Indirect: Someone helps others use your patent without permission
- Contributory: Someone supplies parts or assists another in directly infringing on your patent
- Literal: Someone's product or device makes claims identical to your patent
Defending against patent infringement is crucial. Not only could your business potentially lose customers and income, but someone using your patent could erode your company's reputation.
Your opponent may use these defenses
Inventors should do everything possible to avoid infringing on someone else's patent, and sometimes this includes consulting an attorney. The act of seeking legal advice may be accepted as a defense that the person did not willfully infringe on your patent.
Another way a person or company may defend itself against accusations of patent infringement is to claim that your patent isn't valid. If your patent isn't valid in the first place, there may be nothing to stop others from using your plan or device for their benefit. Patents may be ruled invalid by the court for any of the following reasons:
- The patent holder used false information on the patent application
- The patent resulted from unfair business practices
- The patent was not for a new or novel invention or was merely a variation of an existing patent
It's up to you to prove that your patent is valid and that your opponent infringed upon it. Your attorney can help you gather documentation to present as evidence.
What are the consequences of patent infringement?
If the court determines that an infringement was done intentionally, there may be serious penalties for the infringer. You may be owed damages that include the profits you lost or the royalties the product might have earned while the other person marketed your product. Your opponent may also be required to pay any expenses incurred by the litigation of the case. Most importantly, if the court finds in your favor, a permanent injunction is usually issued to prevent your opponent from continuing to infringe upon your patent.
Since patent infringement involves intellectual property, any lawsuits you bring will have to be filed in federal court. You will have a statute of limitations of six years from the time that the infringement took place, so securing legal help in a timely manner is advisable. Patent law is complicated and highly technical, and an attorney with proven strengths in this area will increase your chances of a favorable ruling.