The main goal of patent management is obtaining and maintaining patents. This process involves various technical, legal and business skills. Identifying, developing and assessing the technology involved in a given patent naturally requires some amount of technical knowledge. Legal expertise is often beneficial, but not necessary, to complete a patent application and maintain it. Finally, maximizing the profits of the patent is the responsibility of businesses. While numerous professionals are often involved in obtaining and maintaining patents, it is also possible for the individual inventor to do the work himself. Although, this is less likely a wise approach if the invention is complex and the potential profitability is high.
The United States Patents and Trademarks Office (USPTO) receives over 5,000 patent applications each week and has granted over 100,000 patents annually since 1994. Since then patent application and issuance rates continue to increase exponentially.
While some individuals may apply for patents on their own, many patents come from within academic institutions or companies. How patents are managed varies but some generalities can be identified based on the setting in which the utility (i.e., invention), design, or plant arose.
Within academic institutions, the patent management process usually involves an initial determination of the relative importance of the subject matter and whether commercialization is feasible. To make these determinations, ad hoc committees may be formed, and if approved, advisers often complete the patent application.
Private companies follow a similar process in regards to patent management, with some notable exceptions. Large corporations such as IBM have divisions dedicated to protecting intellectual property (IP). The divisions have in-house counsel, as well as other necessary experts to fully initiate and continue patent management. Some companies however do not share profits with the inventor, especially if the discovery is deemed to have been fully in the scope of what the inventor was hired to do.
In smaller companies, the emphasis may be placed on determining priorities in patent management, especially if there are a number of inventions that could receive patents and fewer resources to do the work necessary to obtain and maintain a patent. Small companies are also likely to hire patent management firms.
Regardless of the setting in which the subject matter for a patent was developed, a patent management firm may be solicited to provide patent analysis and commercialization assistance. They offer a variety of services, such as providing patent applicants with a matching score that informs them of other inventions similar to the one for which they are seeking a patent. Also, these firms can aid companies in managing their patent portfolio in terms of identifying the areas that can effectively use further development. Overall, these firms serve as intermediaries between the patent applicant and the USPTO.
Agreements with these firms generally place responsibility for obtaining, maintaining and maximizing the patent on the firm. The inventor or company generally does not bear any expenses and shares profits with the firm. Exact percentages are determined contractually.
Patent management is becoming increasingly important as the significance placed on technological advancement increases. Therefore, it is inevitable that the complexities associated with managing patents will increase.