What Is a Patent Infringement Case?

A patent infringement case refers to an entity committing a prohibited act with a patented invention without authorization from the holder of the patent. Permission or authorization is usually granted to entities by the patent holder in the form of a license. A patent infringement case occurs when a patent holder files a lawsuit against an entity for committing patent infringement.

Patent Infringement Litigation Is a Risky Venture

About 50 percent of all lawsuits filed in the United States last year were related to patent infringement. This indicates a 40 percent increase in the number of patent infringement litigation lawsuits from three years before. 

If you are dealing with patent infringement, you will enter a patent infringement lawsuit. It is important that you know that patent infringement cases are risky ventures. Not only are patent infringement cases expensive, but these cases can take many years to be resolved. There is also the possibility that you could lose the case after putting so much time and  so many resources into going to trial.

Defendants in patent infringement cases tend to be large corporations. These corporations often have unlimited resources for lawsuits. On the other hand, plaintiffs in patent infringement cases tend to be small businesses or individuals with few resources.

A Note on Patents, Trademarks, and Copyrights

Copyrights, patents, and trademarks are all distinct legal tools. These tools are used to claim ownership in various ways. These legal tools are also regulated by different government agencies. Therefore, you will need to rely on different methods to use these legal tools. 

  • Patents offer exclusive rights to an invention for a limited amount of time. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office offers patents in exchange for displaying the invention to the public.
  • The purpose of copyrights is to protect "works of authorship," which typically refer to works of music, literature, and art. The U.S. Copyright Office is responsible for the distribution of copyrights.
  • Trademarks are one of the more complex legal tools. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, a trademark refers to a symbol, word, phrase, or design that distinguishes or identifies the source of a good of one party from the good of another party. Service mark is very similar to a trademark but it applies to services rather than goods. If you register a trademark, you have legal ownership and the authorization to use the mark anywhere in the United States.

Historic U.S. Patent Law Cases

As you can probably imagine, laws relating to patents, trademarks, and copyrights are very complicated and dense in the United States. These laws originate from codes and traditions that are centuries old. Here are a few historic U.S. patent law cases that played important roles in developing the ownership laws that we have today.

  • The U.S. Patent Act of 1970 is the first patent statute that was passed by the government of the United States.
  • O'Reilly v. Morse, 1853 found that while a specific use for an abstract idea can be patented, the abstract idea itself cannot be patented.
  • Gorham Company v. White, 1871 produced the foundation for tests related to design patent infringement. 
  • Schillinger v. United States, 1894 made it so that patent infringement lawsuits could not be filed against the federal government. 
  • The Incandescent Lamp Patent Case, 1895 justified the invalidation of non-specific patents.
  • Graver Tank & Manufacturing Co. v. Linde Air Products Co., 1950 led to the introduction of the doctrine of equivalents, which is used in common law in many countries in the world.
  • Aro Manufacturing Co. v. Convertible Top Replacement Co., 1961 caused the Supreme Court to redefine the difference between "reconstruction" and "repair" of a patented item.
  • Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 1980 set the precedent that a man-made living organism is a manufactured good that can be patented.
  • Phillips v. AWH, 2005 is frequently used as a reference case when it comes to interpreting the language of a patent.
  • KSR v. Teleflex, 2007 is another reference case that is used when the "obviousness" of an invention is uncertain. To be patentable, Inventions cannot be "obvious" to individuals skillful in the relevant area.

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