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What is Patent Infringement?

According to United States federal law, patent infringement is defined as a “violation of a patent owner’s rights with respect to some invention.” Patent infringement is committed by making, using, or selling something that contains elements of a patented claim without permission from the patent owner and while the patent is still in effect. Patent infringement is prohibited in the United States.

Key Takeaways

  • Patent infringement is referred to as the violation of a patent owner’s rights regarding a certain invention or creation. 
  • In the United States, patent infringement is prohibited.
  • Legal penalties for patent infringement include damages for lost profits, reasonable royalties and attorney fees. 

Understanding Patent Infringement

Since patent information is easily accessible as it is published online for the world to see, patent infringement is fairly common and easy to execute. Nevertheless, it is highly illegal and being accused of patent infringement can have detrimental consequences. You may be held liable to pay damages for lost profits, reasonable royalties, or even attorney fees. It should be noted, however, that there are no criminal remedies for patent infringement. In other words, generally, you will not be sentenced to jail time for infringing on patent rights. This may change in the future, though, since plenty of legal experts are advocating in favor of criminalizing patent infringement. For instance, in an article for IP Watchdog, attorney Brooke Blackman stated that "Given the current state of the U.S. patent system, with all of the legislative and judicial developments further weakening the effectiveness of patents, it may finally be time to consider adding patent infringement to the list of IP crimes under federal law," she declared.

Types of Patent Infringement

Patent infringement is an umbrella term that is used to describe a variety of violations. Here are a few of the most common types of patent infringement:

  • Direct infringement: this is the most clear-cut form of patent infringement. It refers to the production, utilization, and sale of protected inventions or creations without obtaining permission from the owner. The violation must be committed willfully and within United States borders.
  • Indirect infringement: indirect infringement refers to contributory infringement and infringement by inducement. According to these principles, a company can still be held liable for patent infringement even if it was not the original infringer.
  • Literal infringement: this rare care of patent infringement occurs when someone copies every feature of the patented item. In these cases, the infringing product or service contains every claim limitation of an already-issued patent.
  • Willful infringement: A person who expresses complete disregard for another's patent commits willful infringement. This is considered an extreme instance of infringement since the infringer is fully aware of the existing patent and chose not to respect the owner’s rights.

Bottom Line

Patent infringement is a serious offense that is not to be taken lightly. If you believe that a third party has infringed on your patent rights, seek legal support as soon as possible. Alternatively, if you are concerned that your creation or invention may infringe on another person’s patent rights, you may want to consult with a licensed intellectual property attorney.

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