Patent Infringement

     Patent infringement occurs when someone makes, uses, sells or offers to sell something covered by the claims of someone else's unexpired patent without authorization. It is a common misconception that if you have obtained a patent on your invention, you cannot infringe someone else's patent. The Patent Office does not screen for infringement when it considers patent applications. It only looks to see if the invention claimed is novel over the prior art. Of course, a patented (or unpatented) device cannot infringe a patent on something that was invented after the accused device is already being sold. Any patent that would cover the "prior art" is invalid.
     Possible infringement should be a particular concern when designing a product similar to one known or believed to be patented by someone else. In such cases, it is wise to conduct a "right to make" patent study.
     U.S. patents are usually not effective to stop someone overseas from doing things that would constitute an infringement if done in the U.S. However, a U.S. patent can be used to stop the importation of such products into the U.S. As a result, a U.S. patent may be used to protect against foreign and domestic competitors.
     A successful patent infringement lawsuit may result in the award of damages against an infringer. The damages may be tripled if the infringement is "willful." Willful infringement may occur if a person knows about a patent and does not take steps to avoid infringement. Further, someone who does not infringe, but causes or induces someone else to infringe, may also be held liable for infringement. Because the penalties for patent infringement may be substantial, prompt legal advice should be obtained whenever a potential infringement situation arises.