A Survey of Intellectual Property Rights in Optics

Richard I. Miller

When asked why he had already spent $17,000 of his own money to file his patent application in the U.S. and in eight European countries under the Patent Cooperation Treaty, the engineer replied, "To become rich and famous." As he had, instead, become impoverished and obscure, he now had no kind words to say about the patent system in general, or his own lawyers in particular. I examined his documents and it appeared that he had gotten exactly what he paid for: a good patent with strong claims that, if enforced, can prevent all others from making, using, and selling his chromatographic invention in nine nations. What he did not seem to appreciate is that a patent is not a product, a product is not a business. And even a business is not a guarantee of fame and fortune. As his expectations were unrealistic in the first place, his disappointment was inevitable. So let us start at the beginning.

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