When you discover that a business has breached your patent, what should you do?
The answer to this question has two elements. The first is based on what you can do in law and the second is based on business strategy.
Firstly, before picking a fight with anyone over such a matter, it is important to make sure that you are on firm ground, so do your research carefully. Make sure there is a real infringement and that the infringement is in a market in which your patent applies.
In law, if a business infringes a patent, it is liable to pay damages to the patent owner, which will be based on the loss suffered by the owner. In theory, losses suffered will be compensated for but, in practice, allowing an infringement to continue while you negotiate with (or sue) the infringing business is a high-risk strategy. In most cases, especially where the effect of the patent infringement is severe (for example, where its use directly affects your sales), it is likely that you should send a legal notice to the offending business requiring it to cease the infringement immediately.
This will normally produce one of the following responses:
1. The infringer will agree, cease the infringement and (hopefully) enter into discussions with you about the appropriate payment to make to you by way of compensation. Regrettably, this is not the most common response.
2. The notice will be ignored. In this case, the infringer either hopes that your letter is a bluff and you will not take legal proceedings or believes that it has not infringed your patent and would win that argument were the matter to come to court. Under these circumstances, it is doubly important to do your homework and make sure of your position as legal proceedings are likely to be necessary.
3. Your notice will be met with a denial from the infringer (and occasionally a counter-claim that one of your products infringes its patent). In this case, there is a fight there if you want it (or sometimes even if you don’t).
No matter what the response, in the majority of cases the most satisfactory outcome will usually result from negotiation with the benefit of expert advice, rather than court proceedings. Commercial considerations must be kept at the forefront and it is normally advisable to leave the door open to a negotiated settlement. This is especially so as one of the common outcomes of such disputes is the creation of a licensing agreement, which will require specialist legal advice.