There are more science and technology discoveries and creations now than ever before. For companies and individuals looking to commercialize their work, there are many hurdles to get over. Designing, financing, testing, production, and finally marketing and selling the product are all stages that bring their fair share of challenges. There are also regulatory considerations depending on the nature of the product. With the rise of information sharing and the ease with which people can access various technologies, protecting intellectual property is particularly important. The patent filing process is far from simple, but it is an important part of safeguarding the work of an inventor, researcher, or innovator.
What Does a Patent Do?
In brief, a patent is a legal document that protects the owner’s intellectual property. When a pharmaceutical company applied for a patent for a drug they have been working on or a tech expert patents their new electric skateboard, this prevents someone else from stealing their designs, formulas, and work to produce a copycat or identical product. With a patent in place, others can only manufacture or produce your product with your permission.
A successful patent is granted for a specific time period. This gives the inventor time to manufacture their product commercially and profit from it. In the case of a pharmaceutical drug, it takes years of research, laboratory testing, and clinical trials before a new drug can be approved by the FDA for sale. This is because the drug company must prove the safety and effectiveness of the drug for human use, and this takes time to do.
The company must also apply for a patent. If granted, this gives them intellectual property protection for 20 years. After all the testing and approvals, the company may have only part of that time period left to sell their drug. The hope is that they can recover much of the research and development costs before competitors step in. After the 20 years, the patent expires. Other pharmaceutical companies can then produce the same drug, now known as a generic drug.
For inventors who are not interested in manufacturing and selling their inventions, they can still apply for the patent to protect their work. Thereafter, they can license out or even sell the patent to others who are interested in commercializing the product. It is up to the parties involved to determine the terms of the arrangement. Many serial inventors earn royalties on their creations without ever having sold these themselves.
Challenges with Patents
Patents are a great way to protect scientists and technologists; however, as with many legal processes, there are some not so clear cut challenges that can exist. For one, patents may be quite complex to cover a broad spectrum of inventions. There are four main classes of patents. These are utility patents, which protect a new machine process, or system. There are design patents, which protect the ornamental design of a useful product. There are provisional patents, which are the less formal version of a utility patent. The inventor can apply for this as they finalize their invention. Finally, there are plant patents, and these protect new plant varieties produced by conventional horticultural means.
Filing for a patent requires a lot of paperwork and research. Inventors must make sure their own inventions do not infringe on any existing patents. They must also word and structure their applications as precisely as possible so that possible competitors do not find a loophole. Patents also take time and money, but that is the sacrifice needed to protect new technology. One other challenge is that although there are broad categories to file under, some kinds of creations, particularly when it comes to things such as software and genetic engineering are difficult to classify and therefore protect.