There are many new ideas, processes, designs and inventions yet to be seen. But just because they haven't been seen, it doesn't mean the concepts aren't already "out there" - and patented.
First of all, what is a patent?
A patent is a government issued license that gives the holder exclusive rights over an innovation. In the USA, I believe that most patents are valid for 20 years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed. It's a very long time, especially when the fast pace of development of the Internet is taken into account; it's an eternity. An old patent can have huge ramifications on technology that becomes popular, especially if that technology is released by a person or company who is not the patent holder.
What is a patent troll?
The complications arise when Patent Trolls come into play. These are companies that buy up patents left, right and center.. and then, like the mythical creature; wait for a victim.
The term Patent Troll was coined by an Intel executive who was fed up at the time with some companies whom he felt were suing Intel for patent infringement in a predatory, frivolous or opportunistic way.
The amusing thing is that same executive is now
reportedly a partner in a patent licensing firm that is labeled by some as
engaging in patent trolling.
The trolling strategy
Let's say you come up with what you believe to be an innovative ecommerce process or application; you haven't seen it in production anywhere. It's exciting, you can't wait to launch it, so you steam ahead with development and roll it out. All is quiet from the Patent Trolls at this stage, even though they are aware of you - but you not of them. At this point, you still honestly believe your innovation to be orginal.
Researching and filing patents
So you've decided you wish to avoid the patent trolls - what next? You can use some of the databases listed below; but the more I looked into this area, the more I saw it littered with minefields for the inexperienced. The bottom line is, if you want to be really sure, and even then it still won't totally protect you against litigation from vultures and nutters; hire a lawyer that specializes in the field.
It's also a very wise move to file patents for your own innovations and inventions. Links to filing patents in particular regions can also be found below. Again, it appears to be a very complex process and as such, you're probably best getting one of those lawyer thingies. All this legal mumbo jumbo really takes the shine out of invention and entrepreneurialism doesn't it?
Patent research resources
Another interesting resource is Free Patents Online. It provides free patent searching, with features such as PDF downloading, search management functions and collaborative document folders. Free Patents Online also provides professional customized services.
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