A patent monopoly is the concept that you can patent an idea and have complete ownership of the idea forever. In reality, however, patents rarely work this way.

Are Patents Property or a Monopoly

Patents, in general, are referred to as either a monopoly or a property, although neither term covers the whole truth. Patents are considered a private regulatory right. This is based on a federal statute.

Because they can be sold or purchased, patents look very similar to property. Claims define a patent, and the person who owns the patent can prevent other people from using the patent, including:

  • Using the invention.
  • Selling the invention.
  • Manufacturing the invention.
  • Distributing the invention.

Patents could also be considered a type of financial instruments. While patents are similar to property in some regards, they aren't real property and do not behave as such. For instance, patents can be continually licensed to another party. In addition, determining the boundaries of a patent can be very difficult and expensive. It's also possible that patents will overlap.

Real property, on the other hand, can be easily identified, and rarely does real property overlap. For instance, most people understand the value of owning and living in a house. If you want to fully understand patents, you need expertise in multiple fields, including legal, technology, and the field of the patent. Even if you do possess such expertise, it can still be hard to determine the boundaries of a patent.

Ideally, going to court should help you gain clarity on the boundaries of a patent. Unfortunately, court decisions related to a patent can be easily overturned. Patents are different from property deeds in that owning a patent only gives you the right to prevent other people from using your invention. Owning a patent does not allow you to exploit your invention, and it may not even give you the right to use the technology. For instance, it may be against the law to use the technology, or the technology in your patent may overlap with another patent.

While patents do provide some rights over an invention, they are usually not a monopoly. Many patents, for instance, have no actual value, and the boundaries of them may be so narrow that they can be very easy to circumvent. This depends, however, on the industry related to the patent. It's much more difficult to manage an idea than it is something physical, such as a molecule. An example of a monopoly would be a drug that is the only effective treatment for a specific condition.

One misleading issue related to patents is that they are often grouped with other forms of intellectual property:

  • Copyrights
  • Trademarks
  • Trade secrets

In reality, patents are very different from these other types of intellectual property. For instance, copyrights allow for fair use, which is not available with patents.

Patents also come with a variety of expensive costs, such as legal overhead. This can make managing patents difficult for small companies with limited resources. Another issue that makes patents different from normal property is that every patent has a different meaning and scope, making each unique.

How a Patent Monopoly Functions

There is a common idea about patents that you can invent something, file a patent monopoly for the invention, and then use the monopoly to earn a great deal of money. Unfortunately, this isn't how patent monopolies work in reality. In the real world, the system established for patent monopolies is meant to protect current inventors.

Imagine, for instance, that you've invented a completely new type of wrench that uses a unique mechanical lever to reduce labor. You've spent a great deal of time and effort to create this invention, and you want to profit on your investment by filing a patent monopoly.

The first obstacle to receiving your patent monopoly is the cost. In Europe, for example, you may need to pay at least 50,000 euros for a patent monopoly, which is an amount that normal inventors wouldn't be able to cover. If you're able to raise this money and receive your patent monopoly, you still might find it difficult to prevent large corporations from producing your invention. The current patent system favors large companies, and if you're a single inventor, you may have trouble protecting your invention from these corporations.

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