Companies and individuals are frequently lulled into a false sense of security by obtaining patents on their intellectual property. Although patent protection does make it illegal for another party to make or sell a patented item without the owner’s express permission, patent infringement does still occur.

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Patent infringement is not the only driving force behind patent lawsuits. In fact, some people abuse the system for the sole purpose of profiting off litigation rather than the idea itself. If you are in the process of applying for a patent, your patent is being challenged, you are dealing with a patent troll, or someone is infringing on your idea, an experienced patent attorney can help you determine how to proceed.

Ben Pleune, Charlotte-based partner at Alston & Bird, believes that one of the most important considerations for any technology company—or any company for that matter—is the careful consideration and protection of intellectual property. “The earlier intellectual property (IP) protection is considered, the better options the company will have for protection,” says Pleune.

Filing a Patent

Patents are issued by the United States Patent and Trademark Office for inventions of “new” items. To be defined as new, the invention must have never been “patented, described in a printed publication, or public use, on sale, or otherwise available to the public before the effective filing date of the claimed invention.”

When granted, patents are usually good for 20 years from the application date, with certain exceptions and possibilities for extension. A patent attorney can help you determine whether your idea is able to be patented and assist you in the filing of a non-provisional utility patent application if it is.

What If My Patent Is Denied or Challenged?

It is important to note that patent examiners frequently reject, or object to, the initial patent application. This is not cause for panic. In most cases, the examiner is simply rejecting or challenging certain patent claims within the application. Your application may simply require different or additional wording and drawings. Regardless of the reason, you will need to amend the application, fixing any errors until only allowed patent claims are present. This is a complex process that should not be attempted without the help of an experienced patent lawyer.

Patent Trolls and Patent Hoarders

Believe it or not, some companies attempt to profit from patent-infringement lawsuits. These companies, often referred to as patent trolls, purchase cheap patents from struggling companies and look for businesses that appear to infringe upon their cheaply-acquired patents. If the businesses refuse to pay licensing fees to the patent troll, the troll usually threatens to file a patent lawsuit.

Considering that licensing fees can reach into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, patent trolling (also called hoarding) is big business. Since patent lawsuits can set a company back in the millions, many prefer to pay the licensing fees or settle out of court, even when no infringement occurred.

Pleune understands how frustrating it can be to become the target of patent infringement lawsuits by non-practicing entities. “The good news is that there are strategies for addressing this type of litigation, and defenses and tactics can be employed to put the company in the best position possible,” says Pleune.

Contact an Experienced Patent Lawyer Today

If another party is using or selling your patented idea without your permission, you have rights. According to Pleune, “IP protection provides the best defense against competitors attempting to copy products or steal an idea. If that happens, IP enforcement is a good tool to make sure that competitors are operating fairly in the marketplace.” An experienced patent attorney can help you protect your rights, and your idea. If you need to file for a patent, deal with patent trolls, or bring a lawsuit against another party for infringement, contact an experienced patent attorney today.