A patent for an invention is a grant of property rights to the inventor. The United States Patent Trademark Office issues patents. A patent term is usually for 20 years from the time the application is filed. A patent is only effective within the United States.

Patenting is a time consuming process that can take as long as five years to complete. The process of obtaining a patent involves filing an application with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, paying the applicable fees, and responding to office actions.

Why Do I Need a Patent?

People file and get patents because they do not want other people to steal their ideas and make money off it after they patent that same idea. The best way to patent an idea is to first research the idea to see if your idea is not infringing on someone else’s patent. This step will help ensure that your idea has not been already patented.

What Happens If a Patent is Violated?

If a patent were to be violated, it would be called a patent infringement. Patent infringement is a serious offense and usually results in a civil lawsuit.  This is generally filed by the owner of the patent against a company or person that uses the patented invention without their permission.  A party that’s found to be liable for patent infringement may have to pay damages to the patent holder for any business losses that the violation might cause.

In addition, the liable party may need to forfeit any unauthorized items to local enforcement authorities.  Criminal charges can sometimes arise in very serious cases, especially those involving aspects related to white-collar crime.

What is Patent Infringement?

Patent infringement is a type of violation involving the unauthorized use, production, sale, or offer of sale of the subject matter of another’s patent.  There are many different types of patents such as utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. However, the basic idea behind patent infringement is that an unauthorized party uses the patent in some way without the owner’s permission.

When determining whether patent infringement has occurred, a court will usually compare subject matter covered by the patent with the subject matter used by the “infringer.”

Infringement obviously occurs when the violator uses the same exact subject matter as the patented material.  But, in many cases infringement may occur if the subject matter is very similar to the patented object or design.

What Types of Damages are Available in a Patent Infringement Lawsuit?

Patent infringement lawsuits can lead to significantly higher damages awards than other types of lawsuits.  This is because certain statutes like the Patent Act, allow plaintiffs to recover damages that aren’t normally available in most tort claims (namely, “treble” damages or damages worth triple the amount).

The basic, minimum damage award issued in a patent infringement claim is a “reasonable” royalty paid by the defendant to the plaintiff for the unauthorized use.  This amount is calculated according to various factors, like fair market values of the patent at the time of the violation.

Other types of patent infringement damages may include:

  • Treble damages: As mentioned, these are damages that are worth triple the amount of the losses actually caused by the infringement.  For example, if the infringement actually caused $10,000 worth in losses, a treble damages award can be issued in the amount of $30,000.
  • Profits: The plaintiff can sometimes recover the profits that the defendant would have received from selling the patent
  • Punitive damages: Punitive damages are normally not awarded unless the defendant acted knowledgably and willfully in the infringement.  Punitive damages may sometimes be factored in as part of the treble damages award; this is known as “enhanced damages”
  • Other costs: In severe cases, the defendant may be ordered to pay additional costs such as attorney’s fees, court costs, and interest rates associated with the patent
  • Injunctions: While not technically a form of damages, an injunction can be issued to order the defendant to cease the infringing conduct
    Patent violations are treated very seriously- the damages awards allow the injured party to recover a substantial amount for their losses.

What are “Indirect” Patent Infringement Damages?

Another interesting feature of patent infringement claims is the idea of “indirect damages”.  These are damages that might not directly caused by the infringement, but are still reasonably connected to the violation.

For example, suppose that a patent covers a device that has multiple features.  If the defendant infringes on only one of the features, the plaintiff may be allowed to recover losses associated with the entire device, not just the features infringed upon.  This is also known as the “entire market value” rule.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Patent Infringement Damages?

The body of laws covering patent infringement damages is very comprehensive and can sometimes be complicated.  As you can see, there are many factors for a court to consider when awarding damages for patent infringement.  If you need assistance with patent infringement damages, a patent lawyer or intellectual property lawyer in your area can represent your interests in court so that you can recover the full amount of damages available to you.