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Patent infringement is the unauthorized act of making, using, selling, offering for sale, or importing a patented invention. Allowing patent infringement to occur can have disastrous results for a patent owner as revenues from a patented invention are siphoned away by a competitor. On the other hand, the results may even be more disastrous if the owner sues the competitor and the patent is successfully challenged. For example, Hoffman-LaRoche, an international drug company, sued a smaller company, Promega, over the use of a patent for a process for analyzing DNA. Promega successfully defended itself by arguing that the DNA patent was invalid because the inventors had misled patent examiners. The ruling allows anyone to use, sell, or make the patented invention freely even though Hoffman-La Roche paid $300 million for the patent. As you can see, enforcing patent rights can be tricky, expensive, and sometimes risky.
Patent laws are like stop signs along the road; people are supposed to obey them, but some do not. Often the only way to enforce patent laws is to drag the infringer into a federal court and obtain a court order prohibiting infringement and requiring the infringer to pay damages. In the following sections we discuss the elements of patent litigation and the remedies available under patent law. We also discuss alternatives to patent litigation.