What Is Patent Infringement?

Patents are granted to protect the rights of inventors and businesses that create unique and useful products for society. However, there are times when others infringe on a patent, and patent holders may pursue legal action against another entity for patent infringement. This could result in monetary damages being awarded to the patent holder or an injunction being ordered against the infringement.

Patent Infringement Litigation Basics

When patents are issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), they are set to last for a certain number of years. Utility and plant patterns are granted for a period of 20 years, and design patents are granted for 14 years.

Patent infringement occurs if another party, aside from the patent holder, users, makes, or sells a patented item without permission from the patent holder. When a patent holder discovers that someone is infringing on their patent, they may choose to file a lawsuit against the infringing party to stop their activities as well as to recover compensation for the unauthorized use of the patent. Intellectual property is governed by federal law in the United States, so the patent holder will file their lawsuit in federal court.

Patent holders must bring an infringement lawsuit against the other party within six years from the date the infringement occurs. If a lawsuit is not filed within this six-year timeframe, the patent holder will be barred from recovering any compensation for their losses.

In general, a patent infringement lawsuit proceeds forward like any other litigation in federal court. However, the complicated matters surrounding patents are usually reserved for the court, though there are times when aspects of patent litigation are heard by a jury. Learn more by speaking with an experienced Orange County intellectual property lawyer at our firm.

Types of Patent Infringement

There are various ways that a patent can be infringed on, including the following:

  • Direct infringement. This occurs anytime a product covered by a patent is manufactured without the patent holder’s permission.
  • Indirect infringement. This occurs if a person induces infringement by encouraging or aiding somebody else in infringing a patent.
  • Contributory infringement. This type of infringement occurs when one party supplies a patent infringer with a part that has no substantial non-infringing uses.
  • Literal infringement. This type of infringement exists if there is direct correspondence between the words in the patent claims and the item that is infringing the patent.

Even if an invention is not a literal infringement of a patent, it could still be considered a patent infringement through the “doctrine of equivalents.” This would apply to an object that performs a substantially similar task to achieve similar results. However, the court will need to determine whether the infringement in the case was willful.

Willful infringement of a patent is typically defined as an intentional disregard for the rights of the patent holder. A willful infringement usually involves direct and intentional copying of a product as well as the continued use of the product after notice of infringement.

If a court finds that there has been patent infringement, then the infringer will usually have to pay damages to the patent holder. This will come in the form of either actual damages or a royalty for unauthorized use. Determining the total amount of compensation in these cases can be complicated, but a skilled patent attorney will help calculate the estimated losses the patent holder has incurred and help negotiate a fair settlement.