Fact Checked

What is Patent Infringement?

Elise Czajkowski
Elise Czajkowski

Patent infringement occurs when an invention or process that has been patented is used without the permission of the patent owner. Often, this involves the infringer manufacturing or selling the patented invention. The definition of a patent, and therefore of patent infringement, varies between countries.

Patents are a type of intellectual property. When they are issued, they grant the patent holder the exclusive right to make and distribute that product. If someone else wishes to use the patented invention, they can appeal to the patent holder for a license to do so. Without this permission, they are unable to use or sell the patented invention.

A patent is issued by a government patent office. In the United States, they are issued by the US Patent and Trade Office (USPTO). The USPTO recognizes several different type of patents.

Man holding a globe
Man holding a globe

The most common type of patent in the US is a utility patent. These can include machinery, practical process, and other physically-created items. Patent infringement in these cases can occur when a non-licensed party recreates the elements of the patented invention.

The other main types of patents are design patents and plant patents. A design patent refers to a newly developed look or ornamentation for a product, separate from the product's usefulness. A plant patent is issued to a party that has invented or produced a new type of plant, such as a hybrid.

If a patent holder feels that their patent is being infringed, it is their responsibility to enforce the patent. Often, the first step is to inform the alleged infringers that the invention is patented and to request that they stop using it. If the other party refuses to stop using the patented invention, the patent holder can then sue the infringer.

In a patent infringement lawsuit, a patent holder must prove that the other party infringed all elements of the patent and, in doing so, caused damage to the patent holder. The patent holder may seek damages from the loss of profits associated with the infringed patent and punitive damages if the infringer is believed to have knowingly infringed the patent. The patent holder will generally also seek to force the infringer to cease using the patented invention.

Litigating patent infringement worldwide can be a difficult and complex matter. Each country has its own laws regarding patentability, and multi-country or international patents can be very difficult to enforce.

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