Patents grant inventors the right to use, sell, manufacture, distribute, import, and export a new invention for a fixed period of time. In other words, the patent legally prevents others from using, selling, manufacturing, distributing, importing, or exporting the patented invention. These rights can be enforced by a court if the patent holder learns of any infringement of their patent.
So, if you hold a patent you can prevent potential competitors from competing in the marketplace. Essentially a patent gives you a government-enforced monopoly. If you’re thinking, “wait, the government doesn’t allow monopolies,” you are right. Normally the government works to keep markets free from monopolies. Patents are an exception.
The government enforces patent “monopolies” in order to encourage development of new and useful technologies. The reward for making something new and useful is the right to have a monopoly for a limited time. Since patents are limited to a term of approximately 17 years, the new technology eventually becomes “public domain,” meaning anyone can use the invention after the patent expires.
The argument is that this balance of policies benefits both the inventor and the public.
In exchange for this time-limited monopoly the inventor must disclose enough information about the new invention to allow others to make and use the invention. This is why patent applications must include detailed descriptions, drawings, and other information about the invention. If a patent application does not include enough information for others to make and use the invention, the application will be rejected.
This is also why patent applications are published. Anyone can review patent applications and issued patents online.
Many inventors “sell” their patent rights to companies that manufacture and sell the new technology. Contracts called license agreements are used to transfer rights between the inventor and the company licensing the patent rights. Inventors can transfer all of their rights or very limited rights. Patent rights can be licensed to multiple companies, or exclusively to one company. Different circumstances lead to many different types of license agreements.
If you would like to file a patent application, need to negotiate a license agreement, or just have questions about patents, please give our office a call at 865-766-4040.