The Business Litigation Blog

Patent Infringement: Basics of a Successful Case

In 2013, the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office received over 600,000 applications for patents and granted over 300,000 patents. A U.S. patent grants an inventor or creator of a product, design, plant, or similar thing or process certain protections and rights. This is meant to encourage individuals to make investments of time and resources in order to develop new processes and products. When an individual or entity violates a patent, then the patent holder may be able to enforce his, her, or its rights through a patent infringement lawsuit.

What Constitutes a Patent Infringement?

In determining whether there has been an infringement of an existing patent, a court will examine the claims of the earlier patent and examine these claims in light of the alleged infringing product or process. A “claim” can be considered the technical description of the patented item or process. Claims are divided into “independent claims” (which stand alone) and “dependent claims” (which depend on or are narrower than the independent claims). In order for there to be an infringement, the later device or process must physically contain or perform all of the elements contained in one of the claims. In addition, the associated independent claim must be infringed if it is alleged that a dependent claim is infringed.  

In a 1998 episode of The Simpsons, for instance, family patriarch Homer Simpson desires to emulate Thomas Edison and sets out to invent as many things as possible. One thing he invents is a chair that has six legs: four standard legs and two legs attached to the rear of the chair with hinges to prevent someone from falling backwards out of his or her chair. Suppose that Thomas Edison patented such an invention prior to Homer’s “invention.” An independent claim of the patent may be as follows: “A chair consisting of six legs to prevent said chair from falling backwards” and dependent claims may include: “The chair described in [the independent claim], with two legs attached to the rear of the second pair (rear set) of legs” and “[All previous claims mentioned above], with the two legs attached to the rear set of legs with hinges.”  In the episode, Homer’s “invention” would likely infringe on Edison’s patent, as Homer’s “invention” contains all the claims of Edison’s patent. However, suppose that Homer invented a chair with a rounded bottom and no legs such that the chair could not topple over in any direction. Even though Homer’s chair and Edison’s chair perform the same function, Homer’s chair would not likely be found to have infringed on Edison’s patent.

Contact the Patterson Law Firm for Help

Patent infringement cases and patent prosecutions can be particularly difficult to litigate due to the often-technical nature of patent claims. When preparing a patent application or, more importantly, when you believe your existing patent has been infringed upon, it is essential you retain legal counsel that is comfortable with this complex legal landscape. The Patterson Law Firm, LLC is knowledgeable in and able to assist you with various intellectual property services. Contact us today at 312.223.1699.

1 comment for “Patent Infringement: Basics of a Successful Case”

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