How to Protect Against Patent Infringement
So you’ve worked long and hard, burning the midnight oil as they say, and you’ve come up with a fascinating and useful idea of your own. Something humanity hasn’t quite seen before, a product of not just your vision but your dedication.
First of all, congratulations! These days everyone thinks they’re an entrepreneur, and original ideas are rare.
But it’s for that exact reason that you need to be more careful than ever. Whatever you’ve come up with — a new app, something handy for around the house, or a concept that’ll increase productivity business or science — your idea is precious.
And like a lot of precious things, it can be stolen.
You need to prepare yourself before you do business, and the best way to do that is by getting a patent.
Patent Infringement: It Can Happen to You
600,000 patents were applied for in 2015, and that’s in the US alone. Half of the applications were granted. Any one of these could be beating you to the punch.
Think it can’t happen? Guess again. 6,000 patent infringement lawsuits were filed that same year.
Like any other major move in your life, there’s a little bit of preparation involved in preparing for possible patent infringement.
Knowing your rights is imperative. Here are the steps to protecting your invention or idea, from initial preparation to your last resort.
Keep Things Low-Key
Now that you’ve come up with something that you’re pretty sure is original, don’t rush to tell the world.
Many famous ideas throughout history have been stolen by some of our more famous “inventors.” So be smart!
If you’ve got partners, whether in development or investment, make sure they sign non-disclosure agreements. Get legal help with this if necessary, because you can’t be too detailed or too careful. Your patent is not going to arrive overnight.
Keep news of this breakthrough on a need-to-know basis, even among friends and family.
Watch the Clock
That having been said, you need to go ahead and file for a patent as soon as you can.
US law says you only have one year after making your idea public to file for a patent; after that time, your intellectual property’s up for grabs.
Know the difference between a patent, which protects an invention or a method, a copyright, which protects creative content, and a trademark, which protects the name you do business under or the name of a product.
A good example: if you invent an app, you need a patent for it. The content in the app, however, is what needs to be copyrighted. The name of that app is what you would trademark.
Get the patent first.
Know the Law
Filing a patent costs money in the US, and it doesn’t protect you everywhere; for that, you’ll need a second foreign patent, which you should also file as soon as possible.
Most inventors who lose the right to their intellectual property do so because they neglected to file a foreign patent. You will probably have to get a license from the government before you can do that.
Patents need to be renewed at certain intervals, too, through three and a half to 11.5 years out.
Get an Expert
Again, you want to get a lawyer to file all of this paperwork. There’s nothing that those “invention services” can do for you that a good patent lawyer can’t.
There’s no reason not to have one along for every step of the process, and it will save a lot of time if you do need to file a patent infringement lawsuit in the future.
Be on the Lookout
Make sure and scour the internet as well as any trade publications in your area of business to see if anyone else has had the same idea as you.
It’s entirely possible. And the patent that you get won’t automatically stop anybody from trying to steal your idea; it’ll just give you legal recourse if they do.
You have to do most of the policing yourself.
Make the Contact
If you find that someone has marketed your idea or product after your patent date, don’t go straight to the lawsuit.
Lawsuits are always a last resort.
Make contact with the entity in question and let them know that you have a patent for that same idea. Make sure and do it through certified mail, so that there’s a record of the contact being made.
Cease and Desist
If for some reason they ignore your contact or dispute it, a cease-and-desist order is the next step.
You definitely want a lawyer to draw this one up; it serves as a legal notice that someone is making a claim on your intellectual property.
Get an Injunction
If that doesn’t work, you’ll need to get a court-ordered injunction, which will stop them temporarily from profiting off of your idea.
It will not, however, serve as a legal judgment in your favor. For that, you’ll need to go ahead and file a lawsuit.
At this time, you can also have a patent attorney issue an opinion letter, which leads extra weight to your argument.
File a Lawsuit
As a last resort, filing a lawsuit for patent infringement will force a resolution. (Remember: you can’t file a patent infringement lawsuit in a country where you don’t have a patent!)
You’ll be appealing to a federal district court to make the decision. The patent office only issues patents and has no legal jurisdiction whatsoever. Get a lawyer to go to bat for you.
It’s also good to remember that filing a lawsuit is going to cost you some money as well — for your lawyer as well as court costs. But the amount you may be awarded will be larger than if it was settled out of court.
You can ask for damages as well as court costs, profits that were lost as a result of the infringement, and statutory damages.
Get Started Now!
As you can see patent infringement protection is a long and complicated process with many steps.
The common thread running through all of them is legal representation.
The first person you should tell about your amazing new idea or invention is a patent lawyer. Get a consultation today — the legal process should start as soon as possible.
And as ingenious as you may be, it’s best to leave this one to the experts.