If you're wondering who issues patents, the simple answer is that patents are granted by the U.S. Patent Office in order to encourage innovation and research. Patents will give their owners exclusive legal rights to the use of a certain specific invention, whether it be a product, machine, or even process. In exchange, the product's details are released to the public for others to build on it.

Patents have a long history. They were created with the United States Constitution and have more archaic origins in England. The U.S. Constitution's "Patent Clause" is the source of the federal government's patent powers. The first patent was issued in 1790. Originally, patent applications also had to include a physical model of the invention. Nowadays, the application is fully comprised of words and drawings.

The patent will allow the owner exclusive economic use during the patent's term. The patent owner can choose to license the patent to others, to use the patent only for themselves, or even, to a certain degree, not even use the patented invention at all.

With the increasing complexity of technology, patents have become sub-divided into various categories that have different requirements, terms, and regulations. Patents can range from small processes or devices to larger constructs built from many smaller processes and devices.

The patent will only last for a moderate amount of time, depending on sector and type of patent. The general standard patent lasts for twenty years.

How Are Patents Enforced?

Patents will only be valid in the jurisdiction of the authority that issues them. Therefore, a U.S. patent will only be valid in the United States. In order to receive foreign or international patent protection, the owner will also need to file a separate series of applications.

The way patents are enforced are through court and legal action. If the patent is infringed upon, the patent owner must use the court system to enforce their right. It is the responsibility of the patent owner to monitor the public arena for infringement.

Patent infringement cases can be expensive, especially if it’s an important invention. Here are some of the largest patent infringement public judgments from 1997 to 2016:

•Idenix (P) vs. Gilead (D): $2.54 B (2016)

•Centocor (P) vs. Abbott (D): $1.673 B (2009)

•Lucent (P) vs. Microsoft (D): $1.538 B (2007)

Others can use the patent however if the owner decides to license the patent to them. The patent owner will essentially exchange the right to use the patent, whether exclusively or non-exclusively, for payments.

Patent licensing can be a way to still make economic use of a patent if the patent owner does not have the capabilities or interest in certain uses of the patent. For example, if the patent owner is an individual or a small company, a corporation that has the scale to make great use of the patent may have a big interest in licensing with it.

The deal making between patent owners and licensees is economically beneficial in that it allows the patent to still be used and give its benefits to the public market. The patent licensing relationship can also be abused, as in the case of patent trolls, who use their control of a patent to profit massively or threaten small companies who may not be even infringing.

Licensing a patent is different from selling it. Under a license agreement, the original patent owner will still be the patent's owner.

Why Are Patents Important?

Patented inventions are behind countless products, services, and technologies in our modern society. They are an important factor in nearly every business industry, as nearly every sector relies on product creation and creating new products.

Patents have been important in facilitating technological innovation by rewarding investment in research and development. In contrast, they also do not restrict society's overall use of advancements in knowledge as patents can be licensed, transferred, and eventually expire as well.

Ideas inherently build upon other ideas. When patented technologies are released into the public domain, others will utilize it in many unpredictable ways and create new technologies that are patented too in the future.

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