Your patent is NOT a “green light” to sell a product

Patents do not give you permission to make or sell anything.  In a legal sense they are a defensive tool only.   My old boss used to joke and say “a patent is just a very expensive ticket to the courthouse” meaning you can use your patent to sue other people and stop them from copying you. 

A lot of people I speak with do not understand this fundamental concept.  They think that having a patent means that they are safe and free and clear to start selling their product.  I once even heard a person tell me he was waiting to launch his product until his patent was approved because he was worried he may be violating another patent. 

This is wrong and very dangerous.  When you file a patent it is examined by a patent examiner.  The patent examiner’s job is to review your patent to see if it is new and different enough to be approved (only new ideas can be awarded a patent).  Their job is not to determine if you are infringing or violating other patents and only that can be decided by a judge or jury in a courtroom.  This is a very important distinction.

Let’s use an example to illustrate this key point.   Suppose you invented the light that can attach to bicycle handlebars so that people can ride their bike at nighttime.   Now, lets assume inventor_A has a patent on disk brakes for bicycles and Inventor_B has a patent on a gear shift for bicycles.    If your patent is approved this just means the patent examiner could not find any other bicycles with a light and that you were the first one to come up with this idea.    It does not mean that you are free and clear to start making and selling bicycles with your light because you could be violating Inventor_A’s patent on the disk brakes and Inventor_B’s patent on the gear shift if you started making and selling these.  

So what is a patent good for?  Glad you asked.  Check my old post “You Have a Patent – So What?”