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Patent infringement is the unauthorized importation, use, manufacture, sale, or disposal of a patented product or process. In some cases, this action may be accidental, meaning the party who uses a patented product or process was unaware of the patent or believed he had the right to use the item or process as he did. In other cases, a party may deliberately encroach on the patent holder's rights, purposefully using the product or process in an unauthorized manner. When this occurs, it is called willful patent infringement.
Patent holders do have legal recourse when another party uses their products or processes without authorization. In such a case, a patent holder may begin an infringement lawsuit, petitioning the court to order the defendant to stop using the patented product or process in the unauthorized manner. The patent holder may even sue for damages, seeking a monetary award. If the court concludes that the unauthorized use was willful, it may award higher damages than it might if the patent violation was accidental.
If a defendant in a willful patent infringement case is guilty of using the patented product or process in an unauthorized manner, he may still have a legal defense in court. For example, the defendant can raise questions regarding the patent’s validity. If the court decides the patent is not valid, the case may be dismissed.
In some cases, a court may decide that the defendant had reasonable cause for believing a valid patent to be invalid. As such, the court may not consider the defendant’s actions willful. This doesn’t mean the defendant didn’t infringe on the patent, however. Instead, it just means he did not willfully do so.
Sometimes a person may use a patented product or service in an unauthorized manner because he is unaware that it is patented. He may not have acted willfully in such a case, but his actions may still violate the patent. Interestingly, a person may even be guilty of infringement if he encourages another person or company to use a patented product in an unauthorized manner. Such an act may be called indirect patent infringement.
A willful patent infringement defendant may argue that his use of the product or process didn’t violate the patent’s claims, which define the protections a patent holder has. If the defendant can demonstrate that the patent claims did not include the manner in which he used the product or process, a judge may agree with him. In such a case, the defendant's acts would not be considered patent infringement.
When a patent infringement case is valid, a judge must decide whether the defendant has committed willful patent infringement. In doing so, the judge must consider whether the defendant used the product or process on purpose and with the knowledge that it was patent protected. He may also consider whether or not the defendant tried to hide the infringement and how long he continued to use the process or product in the unauthorized manner. Likewise, he may consider whether the defendant’s intent was to do harm, how the defendant behaved during the infringement case, and whether he’s taken any steps on his own to rectify the situation caused by the infringement.