"If my competitor copies my invention and changes it ever so slightly, my patent is going to be worthless." This is a comment frequently made by entrepreneurs. But is it actually true? It all depends on how well your patent attorney has done his homework.
The claims of a patent application contain a description of what exactly the patent covers. If the claims have been drawn up in such a way that they contain an exact description of your product - and no more than that - your competitor will be able to get around your patent rights by introducing a minor change.
New type of mower deck or tractor?
Suppose: you have invented a new type of mower deck for a lawn mower and the claims only refer to a ride-on mower with this mower deck. Your competitor will not be infringing your rights if he uses this mower deck, in combination with a tractor.
Write with care!
The crux of the matter is that you need to put a great deal of thought into the invention beforehand. That is why your patent attorney will discuss with you where there is 'room for manoeuvre' in your invention.
- Is it possible for your idea to be made from a different material or in a slightly different way, even if this means it is going to be slightly more expensive or not work quite as well as a result?
- What is the essence of your idea? What is absolutely essential to put your idea into practice? And what would be a nice or interesting addition to the basic idea?
- Is it possible to execute certain details of your idea in some other way?
Challenge for your neighbour
The answers to these questions allow you to describe your invention as broadly as possible, so that your protection is also as broad as possible. Your neighbour will then have make a serious effort to get around your patent.
The claims in your patent application to protect the mower deck are then going to be: "installation to cut through natural vegetation growing on a base layer." This is how your patent attorney tries to protect you from that clever person who thinks he or she can avoid infringing your patent by making a minor change.
So, is your patent worthless after a minor change? As long as you have discussed your invention with your patent attorney in detail, a minor change to your invention will also be covered by your patent.