“Build a better mousetrap,” the old saying goes, “and the world will beat a path to your door.” There’s undoubtedly truth in those words, but if the inventor (let’s call him Theodore) of the better mousetrap doesn’t obtain a patent for the gadget, the world might beat paths to the doors of those steal, copy and otherwise co-opt Theodore’s brilliant mousetrap invention.
If Theodore does the smart thing and applies for a patent, the application will include claims that capture the entirety of the invention. When the patent is granted, it will be limited in scope to protecting those claims and nothing beyond those claims.
Improvement on prior art
Because Theodore’s mousetrap improves on existing inventions (known as “prior art”), he will need to show that his trap has components that differ from prior art and that those differences are not obvious to an ordinary person in the mousetrap industry.
If Theodore later files an infringement action based on his patent, he and his intellectual property attorney will have the burden of proving that the alleged infringer made, used or sold a product that essentially duplicated one of his claims.
The two types of damages typically awarded in patent infringement lawsuits are lost profits and royalties.
The defendant can avoid liability, however, if they can show that their mousetrap doesn’t match the description for the claim in question.
The passage of time is another way in which Theodore’s mousetrap patent is limited in scope. In general, “the term of a new patent is 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States,” the United States Patent and Trademark Office says.
In certain situations, a patent term can be extended or adjusted, the USPTO notes.