Watch that patent Featured

7:00pm EDT November 24, 2006

The value of intellectual property has never been as high as it is today. Patents in particular have become valuable assets for businesses of all sizes. Over the past decade, the number of patents issued by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has more than doubled. During that same time, patent infringement damage awards and settlements in the United States continue to increase, reaching beyond $1 billion in some cases.

The value of intellectual property is directly related to the ability to defend that property, whether through litigation or through a structured licensing program.

Smart Business spoke with Monte M. Bond, partner and section chair, Godwin Pappas Langley Ronquillo LLP, to learn more about the role of patent attorneys in patent infringement cases, and how business owners can protect themselves against infringement.

Why are patent infringement cases on the rise?

It is due in large part to a change in attitudes toward patents. Twenty years ago, large corporations simply obtained patents in the belief that if they had enough of them they could defend themselves against others in their business. That was called a ‘mutually assured destruction’ scenario.

Things began to change in the early 1990s as large companies moved to exploit their patent portfolios, which sometimes numbered thousands of patents. They began to market them and obtained record amounts of licensing fees as a result. Companies realized that their patents and fees were a money-making asset.

Smaller companies emulated their larger counterparts, which marked the beginning of a paradigm change. As a result, companies of all sizes nowadays are extremely protective of their patents and intellectual property in general, and challenge any real or perceived infringement in federal courts.

Why is it important for companies to protect their patents?

Effective intellectual property evaluation, protection, exploitation, enforcement and defense are crucial to the survival and success of a business. Therefore, executives have to understand the risks and rewards of intellectual property asset management and know how to develop and integrate plans to make sure their intellectual property becomes and stays an asset of their operations.

The whole point of protecting intellectual property is for a company to be rewarded for the risks it takes by investing in research and development. So investments have to be protected under the rule of law.

Do clients need an attorney to help them protect their patents?

Patents are federal rights that can only be enforced in federal courts. Attorneys who deal with patents and patent infringement cases have to be highly specialized in that area of the law. It takes a great deal of experience and knowledge to handle these highly complex cases.

To practice patent applications for clients, an attorney must be licensed to practice before the Patent Trademark Office. Litigation requires a combination of patent-savvy knowledge of the technology and trial skills.

Why is there a need for strong patents?

In essence, the client is making a bargain with the government. If a technology owner discloses everything that he or she knows about the invention as required by the patent laws of the United States, the government, in turn, will give the owner the right to commercially exploit that invention for 20 years. That explains why it is essential for clients to protect themselves against patent infringements.

At what point in the patent process should clients involve attorneys?

Clients should involve attorneys before the patent is ever filed. The attorney can help get the information needed for filing and prepare and complete a proper application with the assistance of the inventors. Attorneys can work with clients to develop plans to protect their intellectual property and recommend courses of action to be taken when infringement lawsuits are filed against them.

What benefits accrue to clients who involve attorneys in the patent process?

Clients who acquire patents have made significant investments in time, money and effort in research and development. By filing a patent application, they have complied with patent law and should receive the benefit of doing so. They do not want others to come in and take advantage of their hard work and money spent.

If clients have competent counsel who knows the ins and outs of several aspects of patent law and prosecution — someone applying for and nursing through the patent process — they will be better prepared to protect their own patents and defend themselves against infringement claims.

MONTE M. BOND is a partner and chair of the Intellectual Property Section at Godwin Pappas Langley Ronquillo LLP. Reach him at (214) 939-4617 or mbond@godwinpappas.com.