California businesses must take care to avoid the label of "patent troll" as they aggressively protect rights to their own intellectual property.

Just last month, Nintendo prevailed in a patent infringement case in Texas after the judge dismissed claims made against it, which alleged that the gaming giant infringed on a patent owned by another company. Nintendo - famous for the popular Wii games and numerous handheld gaming consoles - regularly spends hundreds of thousands of dollars defending itself against infringement claims, many of which are brought by patent trolls.

What are patent trolls?

Non-performing entities - often referred to as patent trolls - typically do not produce any items or services themselves but simply purchase obscure patents for the purpose of enforcing them against other entities. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimates that claims by patent trolls comprise nearly 60 percent of all current patent lawsuits. The GAO has been unable to keep up with all of the new patent applications and often approves vague and ill-defined patents, which are later used by patent trolls.

Large corporations often have deep pockets and are more able to afford the cost of the often-frivolous claims, but many smaller businesses cannot fight the infringement claims and pay a licensing fee or settle the claim just to keep from going to court.

U.S. lawmakers are cracking down on the perceived misuse of the patent law system and are seeking to make losers of infringement cases pay the court costs of the prevailing party. Unfortunately, legitimate businesses seeking to protect their patents may have the most to lose if the rules are too strict.

Patent prosecution

The process through which people apply for and obtain patents - patent prosecution - helps protect new ideas. It is important to obtain a patent when an individual or business discovers or invents something new, such as a:

  • Machine
  • Process
  • Design
  • Composition

Patent prosecution can take as many as two years or more to complete and the application for a patent requires detailed descriptions of the idea. The higher the level of detail, the more likely it can be enforced in the event of unauthorized or unlicensed use of the idea. A patent can also prevent others from creating, marketing or selling the same idea.

Consult a lawyer

Protection of intellectual property, assets and concepts is vital for any business of any size. In order to protect your ideas and inventions, consult an experienced patent and trademark lawyer. An attorney knowledgeable about patent prosecution and enforcement can help.

Keywords: patents, infringement, patent prosecution