Patent co-ownership refers to a piece of intellectual property, like an invented process or product, that is owned by two or more parties and protected by patent law. The parties involved in such ownership are individuals or companies.

How Does Intellectual Property Ownership Work?

If a person invents a new process or product, they have basic rights of ownership over their creation. The creator of a patented work is the inventor, but sometimes this role is shared. Whether a product or process is created by one or more individuals or companies, it should be protected by a patent.

Intellectual property rights are in place to encourage innovation and give rightful recognition to the discoveries and works of those who deserve it. These rights mean that an invention can be legally protected through the federal courts.

When multiple parties are involved in the development or creation of a patented work, they can share ownership with a co-owned patent. If an invention is patented, anyone who wants to do the following must gain approval from the patent owner:

  • Produce the patented product.
  • Sell the patented product.
  • Use the patent process.

When multiple parties are involved in patent ownership, they will need to make clear the rights and responsibilities of each of the parties involved in their cooperation agreement under the terms and conditions. Unclear ownership of a patent can easily lead to issues when trying to enforce the patent and carry out an infringement case.

How Does Patent Co-Ownership Happen?

Co-ownership or joint ownership of patents is a common occurrence. Anytime a product or process' creation includes the work of more than one person or parties enter into a collaboration, they will share the ownership of the patent. In the first scenario, when two or more people create a patented invention together, they are called co-inventors. Even if one inventor did more work than the other, if they're both a part of the creation, they invented together.

Unless otherwise specified in a contract between the inventors, all of the parties involved in the creating of the patented invention own an equal interest in the patent. Basically, the rights to a patent belong to the inventor of the patented product or process, even if that includes more than one person.

Because of the nature of companies with many patented inventions under their care, employees are frequently asked to sign over the rights to their intellectual property (IP). This way, the company can own all of the patents to their inventions rather than sharing ownership with different employees.

What Are the Rights of a Joint Owner?

Patents registered with the United States Patent and Trademark Office give the owner or owners of U.S. patents the right to make, sell, or offer to sell the protected invention without having to get the other owners of the patent's consent. Each of the owners can also grant patent licenses to other non-owners without the consent of their co-owners.

These rights can be changed if specified in a cooperation agreement signed by the owners. Some will choose to make a rule that all owners of a patent must agree to any licenses granted in order to protect the patented invention's exclusivity.

What Is a Cooperation Agreement?

Usually, inventors who plan to work together on a project will draft and sign a cooperation agreement before they begin work on the product or process. This makes sure that everyone is on the same page and helps to avoid any issues down the road. A cooperation agreement is especially good to have in place before anyone spends money or time on the patenting process.

A cooperation agreement lays out the rights and ownership of the inventors regarding a patented, or soon-to-be-patented, invention. Large companies use cooperation agreements to handle the intellectual property of their employees and any contractors they work with. Universities will sometimes handle this issue differently because the nature of the research done there is different from that done at for-profit companies.

The basic rights regarding intellectual property differ across the globe. So, it's important to know the differences and similarities between IP rights in a different country if you are working with someone or a business from that country.

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