A patent is a form of legally enforceable protection provided for intellectual property. It covers any method or process which is new, useful and non-obvious. The purpose of a patent is to prevent unauthorized usage of an invention. This is achieved by giving the inventor the right to exclude others from making, using or selling the invention for the duration of the patent.
Legal work involving patents requires paralegals to be able to research patents and draft patent applications. Paralegals often work with patent attorneys or agents in handling the administrative work required for the complex procedure of patenting inventions.
In order for a paralegal to successfully carry out these tasks, an understanding of patent laws is essential. According to the law, a patent provides a right to exclude others from using an invention, in exchange for which the inventor is required to share the details of this invention with the public. Also granted to the inventor is the legal right to sell, license and transfer the patent for a duration, which usually lasts for 20 years from the filing date.
When applying for a patent, paralegals should be aware of what can and cannot be patented under the law. A mere idea or suggestion cannot be patented. In the case of a machine, for instance, a patent can only be provided upon a new machine, and not upon the simple idea or suggestion of a new machine.
A patent application in this case would require a complete explanation of how the machine works, the purpose it serves, and what makes it useful. According to patent law, abstract ideas, physical phenomena and laws of nature do not qualify for a patent.
An application also requires for claims to be set out which clearly define what the applicant is seeking to exclude others from making, using or selling. This establishes the scope and level of protection, which would be granted by the patent upon acceptance.
The application is filed to the relevant patent office, following which a “patent pending” status is provided. Full legal protection is provided only upon approval, if the application satisfies the patentability requirements of the country.
Other than this, paralegals may also be involved in litigation proceedings involving enforcement of patents. Patents are mostly enforced through civil lawsuits, with monetary compensation generally provided for any infringements.
Enforcement of patent laws is governed by national laws, including the international treaties that have been incorporated into these laws. While patent laws are set out and decided upon on a national level, there is an increasing global harmonization brought about by efforts to standardize patent laws on worldwide level.