Patents are a form of intellectual property. Patent exhaustion is also known as the doctrine of first sale. The rule essentially says that the owner of a patent cannot control the resale of a patented item, if the seller obtained it lawfully. When the product is sold, the patent, with respect to that individual product, is “exhausted.”

While patent law can be used to control the reconstruction or reverse-engineering of a patented product, it cannot be used to control resale price, or what the end user does with the product, under the doctrine of patent exhaustion.

There is a recent trend, however, of allowing contract law to overtake the doctrine of patent exhaustion. For example, one case held that a manufacturer of printers can place a warning on the box which tells consumers that they may not refill the ink cartridges. If the license is clearly written and visible, the court reasoned, it amounts to a contract which the user agrees to when he or she purchases the product.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

If you have an issue with a patent or the doctrine of first sale, you should contact a patent lawyer for help. Your lawyer will represent your best interests and ensure that your rights are protected.