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Intellectual Property


Patent laws encourage private investment in new technologies by granting to artists the right to forbid all others to produce and distribute technological information that is new, useful, and non-obvious. The statutory requirements for patent protection are more stringent than those for copyright protection. Furthermore, because patent protection for commercial products or processes can give a tremendous market advantage to businesses, those seeking patents often find opposition to their applications. Patent protection can be obtained only through the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

The novelty requirement focuses on events that occur prior to the invention. Under Section

Napster, an online company that provided users the ability to share music files freely, was sued by the Recording Industry of America and was eventually forced to change its business model. Shawn Fanning, founder of Napster, speaks at a February 2001 news conference following a court ruling against the company.

102 of the Patent Act, an invention is not novel if it is publicly used, sold, or patented by another inventor within 12 months of the patent application. This definition implements the public policy that favors quick disclosure of technological progress.

Often, two inventors apply for a patent for the same product or process within the same 12-month period. Three factors determine who wins the patent: the date and time that the product or process was conceived; the date and time that the product or process was reduced to practice; and the diligence that was used to pursue patent protection and to perfect the discovery. Generally, the first inventor to conceive the product or process has priority in the application process. However, if the second inventor is the first to reduce the product or process to practice, and the first inventor does not use diligence to obtain patent protection, the second inventor is given priority in the application process.

The utility requirement ensures that the product or process receiving patent protection will have some beneficial use. The inventor must specify in the application a specific utility for the invention. If the application is for a patent on a process, the process must be useful with respect to a product. A process that is new and non-obvious, yet useless, does not increase knowledge or confer any benefit on society.

Non-obviousness is not the same as novelty. Not everything that is novel is non-obvious. Anything that is non-obvious is novel, however, unless it already has been patented. The nonobviousness requirement focuses on existing technology, or "prior art." In determining whether an invention is non-obvious, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office analyzes the prior art, examines the differences between the invention and the prior art, and determines the level of ordinary skill in the art. Generally, if an invention is obvious to a person of ordinary skill in the relevant art, it is not patentable.

When an inventor claims that his or her patent has been infringed, the court generally engages in a two-step process. First, it analyzes all of the relevant patent documents. It then reads the patent documents and compares them with the device or process that is accused of infringement. If each element of the accused device or process substantially duplicates an element in the patented device or process, the court may declare that the patent has been infringed. Infringement can occur only if another person uses, makes, or sells the patented device or process without the permission of the person who has received the patent.

When a patented device or process is infringed, the patent holder, or patentee, may recover in damages an amount equal to a reasonable royalty. If the infringement was willful, the infringing party may be forced to pay three times the reasonable royalty. If successful in court, the patent holder also may recover court costs and attorneys' fees. If the patent holder anticipates infringement, he or she may apply for an INJUNCTION, which would prohibit a certain party from infringing the patent. An injunction may also issue after a finding of infringement, to prevent repeat infringement.

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Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationFree Legal Encyclopedia: Indirect evidence to Internal Revenue CodeIntellectual Property - Napster And Intellectual Property, Copyrights, Patents, Trademarks, Other Forms Of Intellectual Property, Developments