CRF Blog

Everything You Need to Know About Patents

by Bill Hayes

Vox explains Everything You Need to Know About Patents in 18 short cards. Below is the first card.

What’s a patent?

A patent is a document that gives its owner a legal monopoly over an invention. You can get patent protection for a new cancer drug, a better method for manufacturing electric motors, or a better mousetrap.

The idea behind patents is to create a financial incentive to promote innovation: patents ensure that the inventor of a new idea can get compensated for it, rather than seeing her idea immediately ripped off by copycats.

But in some industries, the patent system might actually be discouraging innovation. In the last decade, there has been a dramatic increase in patent litigation, creating legal costs for innovators who infringe patents by accident.

That has created political pressure for Congress and the courts to improve patent law. Congress passed patent legislation in 2011, and Congress considered, but did not pass, further legislation in 2013 and 2014. The Supreme Court has also been hearing an unusually large number of patent cases in recent years. [more]

Debates over intellectual property can be fascinating. CRF, along with Street Law, has created Educating About Intellectual Property, a web site with lessons on current issues of intellectual property. Click on curriculum for lessons or on multimedia case studies for downloadable PowerPoint presentations (with interactive curriculum) on high interest subjects (such as Joe Satriani’s claim of copyright infringement against Coldplay or the lawsuit between AP and Shepard Fairey over his Obama Hope Poster or a simple one titled “What Is a Patent?”).