What is Patent Infringement?

Discover the consequences of patent infringement for companies and individuals.

Siert BruinsSiert Bruins
What is patent infringement

A patent offers protection against unauthorized production, use, storage, and sale of a product, technology, or method by others without the permission of the patent holder. This wrongful act is called "patent infringement" and constitutes a violation of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR). The patent grants the patent holder the right to take legal action against such infringements.

Patents can be applied for by research institutions such as universities, research institutes, individuals, business owners, start-ups, and large companies. Although infringement is prohibited, the patent holder must take steps to enforce their rights. There is no specific entity, institute or patent-police that detects or enforces patent infringements.

So, if you're an inventor or developing technology with your business, you may:

  1. Encounter infringement on your patent if another party duplicates your technology or product and markets and sells it.
  2. Infringe on someone else's patent. It's not just a concern for patent holders; even if you develop and market a product, you must ensure you aren't infringing on another party's patent. This aspect is often overlooked and can lead to unpleasant surprises. On the page about "does my idea already exist?", you'll learn how to search if there's already an existing patent describing your idea.

Infringement only occurs when commercial intentions are involved. This means that businesses, in particular, must be cautious about what they introduce and produce in the market.

For clarity: not everyone can infringe on a patent. As a consumer, you're unable to commit infringement. Universities and research institutions also do not violate Intellectual Property Rights when conducting scientific research. Additionally, infringement only applies in countries where the patent is valid. Therefore, if an ingenious invention is patented in the Netherlands and Belgium, you're free to introduce the same product as a competitor to the patent holder in Germany and other countries. However, permission is required in the Netherlands and Belgium, obtained through a written agreement such as a license. The license agreement determines, among other things, the amount of licensing fees to be paid to the patent holder.

In case of patent infringement, the patent owner can demand the immediate withdrawal of the product from the market and may also claim compensation, the amount of which is determined by the court. The infringer is also responsible for the legal costs of the opposing party. However, a patent holder might be content if the patented product is immediately removed from the market without the need for legal action.

So, after obtaining a patent, your work is not done; the real work begins. As a patent holder, you're responsible for monitoring the market for potential patent infringement. But how do you do that?

Firstly, it's essential to monitor your competitors' activities. Track their presentations on websites, in brochures, and in advertisements. Regularly check industry magazines and visit their websites and social media monthly; these are often critical sources to verify potential patent infringement.

A second method is leveraging the knowledge of the individuals selling your products. They understand the market best because they attend trade shows, engage extensively with current and potential customers, and quickly discover any potential infringement on your patent. For example, they might hear, "Your competitor is selling a device that does the exact same thing, but for much less." Yeah, sure, that's logical; you then think, perhaps your competitor had much lower development costs (since they copied your idea), and they certainly don't have an expensive patent to maintain...

A third and final suggestion is not only to monitor the market but also to check patent databases for any patents similar to yours. Ideally, these applications shouldn't be granted, but you never know. After all, you're the one who precisely knows how your technology works, and perhaps the reviewer or the competitor's patent agent didn't quite understand it. You can collaborate with your patent agent to set up a system that searches patent databases for publications similar to your patent. Youw will receive an overview of potential infringers on a regular basis. Discuss with your patent agent which monitoring method best suits your situation. If you can't or don't want to bear these costs, it's also possible to periodically search public patent databases yourself using a set of keywords you've compiled.