It's an exciting and nerve-wracking time in the world of patent protection. Patent reform legislation is wending its way through the U.S. Congress, and with it myriad industry voices are raised to advocate for and against changes to the current system. Recent court decisions only add to that debate, while at the same time new rules issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) require immediate attention.
Patents are big business. Indeed, two-thirds of the value of the United States' large businesses results from intellectual property (IP), particularly patents and trademarks, according to the non-profit organization World Growth.
The value of IP is not lost on manufacturing. Today, companies are more savvy about patent protection than they were 10 years ago, observes Mark W. Rygiel, a lawyer at Sterne, Kessler, Goldstein & Fox. That said, he adds, "There's not a company that couldn't do more to protect their [intellectual property]."
"Patents are critical to our ability to protect our inventions, create a differential competitive advantage and therefore get a return on our investment in research and development."
- Understand your current patent position by conducting a comprehensive audit of your patent portfolio.
- Patent protection requires time and money, so develop an overall patent strategy to maximize the available resources. "Most companies don't have unlimited resources," Rygiel notes. "They must be choosy."
- Secure top-level commitment and awareness so that the value of patents is recognized at all levels. This will better position a company to address a threat to its patents.
- Stay informed on the issues. For example, new USPTO rules take effect Nov. 1. The patent office says the new measures will make the patent examination process more efficient and effective by requiring applicants to be more precise in describing the scope of their inventions. Rygiel says the rules may limit the scope of protection patent applicants may seek.
You may be surprised at how far back the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office can reach for U.S. patent activity data.
3 Number of utility patents, or patents for inventions, granted in 1790
173,771 Number of utility patents granted in 2006
735 Number of utility patents applied for in 1840
390,733 Number of utility patents applied for in 2005
Source: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office
- Protect discussions involving nonpatented technology by using confidentiality/nondisclosure agreements.
- Maintain witnessed records of inventions.
- File provisional patent applications before publishing information, such as articles or press releases, to protect potentially patentable subject matter.
- Consult a patent expert before filing provisional applications; patents prepared by inventors themselves may not protect the invention.
- Lastly, she says, enforce your patents. Routinely police the marketplace and competitors to identify infringers.