Electronic and Electrical Engineering Patents

Protecting your intellectual property is essential in the electronics business, where technological developments are rapid.

Given the high costs of creating new products, it is important to get patents to protect your investment and competitive advantage.

The Downside of Patents

While patents are intended to support investment in new product development, they often hurt innovation too.

The biggest problem right now is when the U.S. Patent Office grants patents that are too broad or are for necessary common techniques, thus, resulting in the patent owner preventing others from using the patent or raising the costs of licensing and use significantly.

Many small companies especially, find themselves unable to litigate patent infringement cases, or even file properly for patents. This leads to dominance by large businesses that have the resources to litigate and file.

  • Some common technologies have been patented in the past, such as VoIP systems, barcode networks, and video streaming. These are all basic building blocks for much of modern technology. Such over-patenting results in stifling growth and the integration of technology on a broader scale.
  • While some over-broad patents were eventually canceled due to litigation, fighting bad patents can be an expensive and time-consuming process. While large companies can muster such resources for those fights, small businesses and individuals likely can't.
  • Furthermore, the patent system's imbalances result primarily in gain for patent lawyers, rather than consumers or inventors.

Patent trolling remains a problem as well. Patent trolls are those who buy patents and then use the patent to threaten litigation against those who may theoretically have an overlap with their patent. Small companies, even when in the right, often lack the resources to fight patent troll companies effectively and thus, succumb to royalty and license demands.

For example, in 2011 a patent troll company called Lodsys began threatening many developers of apps. The supposed violations dated back decades. Such cases show how patent trolls contribute little to economic growth or innovation, stifling actual product development in order to collect fees in a rent-seeking fashion

Many companies that can't afford the fees demanded and will close, resulting in job losses for the economy and depriving it of the company’s contribution. Obtaining a patent remains a complex procedure that is often beyond the resources of a small company. Patent attorneys are usually needed, and can often be expensive.

One example of how small business owners and innovators, particularly in electronics and software, have begun to fight back against patent trolls is through the use of open source software.

Open source software is created and often given away for free, with the owners relinquishing their legal efforts to it.

However there remains great legal uncertainty regarding a lot of the open source software. It remains possible that some software may eventually be issued a patent, whereby then the patent troll problem begins again.

Do I need a circuit diagram to get a utility patent on an electronic device?

For your electronic patent, you need to make sure your application explains your invention thoroughly. Drawings should be included. Drawings remain important because it is often difficult to describe complex inventions using only words.

By looking at past patents, you will see that the drawings vary significantly. They may be just simple diagrams or entire circuit layouts. It is worth remembering that the drawings' detail and how specific or broad your patent is are not always correlated. It depends on the specifics of your application and set of claims being applied for.

The drawings are an important part of your application, and it may be worth hiring a professional patent drawer to assist you. If your patent is focused on an individual circuit with just a few components, you may want to use a circuit diagram.

However, if you will be using multiple op-amps, or a tiny microcontroller, you may find it better to have less detail and focus on the essential elements. Your claims are the heart of your patent application. The claims need to describe your invention effectively and thoroughly, as they set the patent’s boundaries.

If you need help with filing your electronics patent, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel’s marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5-percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law, and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with, or on behalf of companies like Google, Menlo Ventures, and Airbnb.