Sometimes, it can be confusing to identify who are the concerned parties of a patent and who actually owns the patent rights. A person can be an inventor of a patent but not the owner of the rights. Alternatively, a person or a company may own a patents’ rights but not be its inventor.
The inventor is any individual (a person) who has contributed to the conception of the invention and what is claimed. The names of inventors of any patent can be easily identified on the front page of the patent by INID code (72).
The applicant is the party that files (has the right to apply for) the patent application – in other words, the patent owner (or assignee). Consequently, the applicant can be the same as the inventor and/or the employer of the inventor, or the organization that the inventor works in e.g. a university or a research institute etc. Typically, employees are obligated by an employment contract to sign their patent rights for the invention to their employer.
Establishing ownership of a patent is important as the patent gives the owner the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, or importing products and/or services utilizing the protected claims of the invention. It is only the owner of the patent who can:
- Manufacture, offer for sale, sell, or use a product covered by the patent.
- License the patent rights to one or more third-parties in exchange for royalties or to use in a cross-licensing agreement.
- Sell or transfer ownership of the rights to a new assignee.
- Sue a third party for infringing on the patent claims.
- If an inventor is not the owner of the patent, then the inventor will have none of the above rights.
- A company can never be an inventor.
- A patent can be jointly owned by more than one party (company, person or organization)
- The original owner of a patent may, at any time, change its own name or transfer ownership to another entity or party. This, however, must be registered with the relevant patent authority and published as a legal event.
- A license agreement gives a third party (the “licensee”) permission to use the patented technology, but the patent owner retains ownership of the rights.