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What types of legal disputes arise over patents?

There are several types of disputes that relate to and arise over patents.

First, if someone infringes an inventor’s patent, which can occur in several ways, the inventor may initiate a lawsuit against the infringing person.

Second, a dispute may arise between two different inventors over the issue of patent priority, which essentially means the inventors are both seeking a patent on the same invention. When this type of dispute gets to the point that the parties seek legal relief, it is known as an “interference proceeding” and takes place before the Patent and Trademark Office’s Board of Patent Appeals and Interferences.

Third, someone can file a “declaratory judgment” lawsuit against an inventor. Here, the person who filed the lawsuit is worried that he may one day be sued by the inventor for patent infringement and he is essentially getting a head start by filing this lawsuit and asking the court to declare that he is not infringing (or, alternatively, to declare that the inventor’s patent is invalid).

Finally, someone who owns a patent may start an action referred to as an ITC Action. Here, the patent owner is asking the International Trade Commission to prevent someone from importing a foreign product into the United States, because that product is being made by a process protected by the patent owner’s patent. For example, if you own the patent on how to put a widget together, but you do not own a patent for the actual widget itself, I might try to get around your patent by having the widgets put together in China and then imported into the country - if I did this, you could initiate an ITC action to have the ITC prevent me from bringing my widgets into the U.S.