It is, of course, illegal to infringe on a patent, meaning that an individual or business cannot appropriate or use patented technology or ideas to make money without the written approval of the patent owner.
That is why successfully obtaining a patent before the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office is so vital for innovative businesses and individuals.
Yet patent infringement claims are widespread. Occasionally, there is a dispute about whether an infringement actually occurred. One party may argue that their idea or technology is, in fact, original, and not a violation of the patent.
In other cases, however, the patent violation is blatant and intentional. Under federal law, in such a case it is possible for the wronged party to receive enhanced damages. This could include receiving up to three times the monetary amount of actual damages, which are damages the wronged party incurred because of the violation.
Treble damages may become more widely available
Enhances damages regarding patent infringement cases have been under scrutiny recently. In October, 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases on willful patent infringement regarding under what circumstances treble damages are an appropriate remedy in willful infringement cases.
A willful infringement occurs when a party infringes on a patent "deliberately and intentionally with knowledge of the patent." There is currently a two-part test to determine whether the infringement is willful:
- The infringer acted despite "an objectively high likelihood" of an infringement claim; and
- The infringer was "subjectively aware of that risk"
The so-called "triple damages rule" is intended to deter businesses and individuals from intentionally violating patents if the infringer determines that it will make more money by violating the patent than it will incur in legal costs. It also sets a high deterrent against any potential infringer wondering whether illegally appropriating an idea is actually worth the risk.
Get your idea or innovation patented now
The U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear the cases in order to create a consistent application of the law across federal circuit courts for determining when a party can be held liable for treble damages for willful infringement. In the two upcoming cases, the Supreme Court may relax the standard by which federal circuit courts can hold violating parties liable for treble damages.
For businesses and individuals who are seeking to obtain a patent, the decision is significant, even if there is no legal action for infringement pending. The outcome of the case could determine to what extent the law deters infringement of patented ideas.
The two cases before the U.S. Supreme Court on willful infringement are Stryker Corp. v. Zimmer Inc and Halo Elecs., Inc. v. Pulse Elecs., Inc. While any decision will not come until 2016, the case will be closely watched by patent attorneys and may have significant ramifications for the future of patent law.
An experienced patent law firm can help you
If you believe you have a patentable idea, it is important to bring your idea to an experienced patent attorney. The triple damages rule is a strong deterrent against competitors appropriating your ideas and violating your patent intentionally. Depending on the outcome of the two cases, triple damages may become more widely available in the near future.
Eldridge Law Firm is an experienced patent enforcement law firm located in Fort Worth, Texas.