Engineers who want to patent their creations face a number of challenges, but the rewards of having a patent can be substantial. Patent filing is like most government filings, an involved process that requires some effort to complete.
Advice for getting through this thicket was the topic of a conference session headed by Robert L. Burns. He told rapt attendees that patent applications must be handled properly so they will hold up in the rare event that they're challenged in court.
"It's not too unusual to find areas where someone didn't cross all the Ts and dot all the Is, and often that makes it possible to get the patent invalidated," says Burns, of the law firm Finnegan Henderson Farabow Garrett & Dunner LLP of Washington D.C.
While urging would-be patent filers to pay close attention to their filing, as well as when and where they divulge information on their invention, Burns notes that most patents are never challenged. "Usually, when a company sees a patent mark, they back off," he says.
Another form of protection is to copyright the documentation that ships with the product. That can be particularly important overseas, since a U.S. patent only covers companies in the U.S. and its territories.
"Companies in Asia involved in piracy usually knock off the manual if they pirate the product. If you don't have a patent there you can still have some legal recourse with a copyright," he says.
Patent filers also need to understand that receiving a patent is a lengthy
task. Most of the time, the patent office will routinely refuse a patent to see
if the filer wants to pursue it further. For those who do opt to continue, the
typical waiting period is three years from filing to final approval or