For businesses, protecting valuable business information from competitors is an important task that deserves careful, ongoing attention. This is particularly true for businesses in highly competitive industries where innovation is critical and the risk of losing employees to competitors is high.
One potentially important tool businesses can use to protect valuable business information is patent protection. The two most common types of patent are utility and design patents. Utility patents are for inventions or discoveries of any new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or an improvement on such matters. Design patents are for new, original and ornamental designs for already existing articles of manufacture.
Patent protection can be obtained for almost any product that is man-made and upon the processes for making any product. Two important conditions for obtaining patent protection, though, are that the product is both novel and non-obvious. This basically means that the specific patent to be sought does not already exist, either explicitly or as an already obvious aspect of a prior patent. It is important for businesses to carefully examine existing patents to ensure they don’t infringe on a patent-holder’s rights.
Usually, patent protection lasts for 20 years, giving the patent-holder the right to exclude others from making, using or selling the invention in the United States. Patents must be enforced to be effective, just like other forms of intellectual property protection. There are different ways to do this, such as negotiating licensing agreements privately and filing a patent infringement lawsuit in federal court.
Patent protection is certainly valuable, but there are some drawbacks. In our next post, we’ll look at how patent protection compares to another important form of intellectual property protection: trade secret enforcement.