As an active pilot and patent attorney, I enjoyed reading “Texas pilot patents flying motorcycle,” in the Feb. 3, 2006, issue. The article explains that Larry Neal of The Butterfly LLC in Texas recently acquired a new patent to his “flying motorcycle.” After reading the article, I located Mr. Neal’s new patent on the Patent Office website: it’s U.S. Patent No. 6,978,969 (issued Dec. 27, 2005). It’s very interesting.
However, one thing in the article caught my eye. According to the article, Mr. Neal is quoted as making the following statement about the new patent: “[The patent] means we’re free to develop practical flying vehicles without infringing on patent rights of other inventors.” Although that statement is commonly heard about patents, it’s incorrect.
The patent right is an exclusionary right. In other words, a patent gives one the right to exclude others from using one’s own patented technology, but not necessarily the right to use one’s own patented technology. The court cases explain the exclusionary right this way: “Federal patent policy seeks to encourage the disclosure of new, useful, and non-obvious inventions by granting the inventor the exclusive right to exclude others from making, using, or selling the invention for a period of years.”
The reason that the patent right is an exclusionary right is that a patented invention may include the inventions of others. For example, if I patent the combination of A + B, and if you patent the combination of A + B + C, you can exclude me from using A + B + C, but I can exclude you from using A + B (even though A + B is part of your invention of A + B + C). So, as you can see, a patent only allows one to exclude others from using one’s own patent (but not necessarily the right to practice one’s own patent).
Note that I typically conduct a seminar on patents and patenting in the aviation industry in the forums at both Sun ‘n Fun and Airventure. This year, I’m planning to present my seminar at Sun ‘n Fun at noon on Sunday, April 9, in Tent #2. I also plan to present a similar seminar at Airventure 2006 on Aug. 29 or 30.
Lionel M. Lavenue