Patent fundamentals for researchers, manufacturers

Patent laws function much the same way no matter the technology at issue. But there are some aspects of patent law that affect particular industries in specific ways. My Thompson Coburn colleague Steve Ritchey looked at some of these issues in a recent article for the American Ceramic Society.

His article, “Patent law fundamentals for innovators in the ceramic and glass industry,” covers the basic elements of a patent, details the utility and design patents relevant to ceramic and glass manufacturers, and briefly discusses the significant changes in patent law wrought by the America Invents Act.

Because of Steve’s unique background as a former technician in the ceramicengineering field, his article is geared toward an engineering audience. But nearly all of the patent fundamentals are applicable to innovators across a host of technical industries. 

As Steve writes, “Patents are an important class of asset for any company. For a startup company, its patent portfolio may be its most important asset. Despite their importance, patents and the surrounding law may not be well understood by researchers and management. Therefore, they risk making decisions or taking actions that could negatively impact their ability to pursue and obtain patent protection for their inventions.

“The best way for a company to avoid costly mistakes at a critical juncture is to become better informed about the patent process and work closely with a patent attorney at all stages of an invention.”

Steve’s article includes a nice diagram, similar to my previous slide show, that breaks down the different pieces of a patent application. He also worked with an illustrator to create an original comic, seen below, that explains how patent claim language, specifically the word “comprising,” can create headaches for innovators trying to push their technologies to market. It demonstrates that in some instances, the only way for two competitors to overcome an infringement hurdles is to enter into a cross-licensing deal.

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