How is Patent Ownership Determined?
Patent ownership is determined by either inventorship or a contract. In other words, unless there is an agreement to the contrary, the inventor (or inventors) owns the patent rights. At first glance, this seems obvious, right? If you’re the inventor, you should own the patent, right? Well, it’s not as obvious when you consider that patents are typically developed by employees of companies. These employees are typically paid salaries by their employers and are inventing stuff on behalf of those employers. As well, employers typically pay for the offices and labs and engineering shops and all the tools to enable employees to invent successfully. Then, the employers typically pay for the patent lawyers who prepare, file, and prosecute the patent applications. When you consider these factors, it’s not as obvious that the inventor should be the default owner of the patent rights. Still, the inventor is the default owner of the patent rights.
Because of this patent ownership default, it’s critically important for all parties to a business relationship to have agreements in place that define patent ownership and use rights. These relationships might include employers, employees, contractors, joint venture partners, joint development partners, universities, or just two friends starting a business together.
So, what kind of agreements can be used to define patent ownership and use rights? Well, patent ownership and use rights (and any other intellectual property rights) are typically defined in services agreements, joint venture agreements, contractor’s agreements, employment agreements, and joint development agreements. Then, the ownership and use rights decisions can be carried out by assignment or licensing agreements.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that while patent ownership rights have a similar flavor all over the world, patent rights only exist in the nation of th