Patent licensing is considered one of the most viable means of commercializing a patent. In short, a patent holder seeking to license his patent will not exploit it himself. That is, he will not try to create, market, and sell anything based on the patent. Instead, he will market the patent itself to those who do wish to take those steps. Any variation of this is known as “licensing a patent.” However, it is best to know some facts about licensing patents before one rushes to do so, or assumes that licensing is a “set it and forget it” means of cashing in on their intellectual property.
Legally speaking, you have licensed your patent when you (the licensor) grant exploitation rights over your patent to a licensee (the person you are licensing it to.) “Exploitation rights” simply means the right to create, market, and/or sell something based on what that patent protects. A license of this nature is also a legal contract, and that contract is what will spell out in concrete terms precisely which exploitation rights are being granted. These include any performance obligations the licensor might demand of the licensee. This means that if any performance obligations are included in the contract (ie, “You must produce X number of sales by the year X.”), and they are not met, this could lead to the patent licensing being terminated in its entirety. In this context, a license is also revocable – ie, cancellable – if certain terms and conditions are not met. This is a common characteristic of legal contracts in general, with special ramifications for patent licenses.
The only way to grant someone irrevocable exploitation rights, it should be added, is to assign them the patent. Assignments, however, are permanent. They entail the sale or outright transfer of the patent by the assignor to the assignee. An in-depth exploration of patent assignments is beyond the scope of this article, but just know that they are an option if irrevocable exploitation rights are something you seek.)
Now that you know what patent licensing is and what it involves, we can move on to a discussion of how to capitalize on them financially. The primary means of doing this is to seek royalties from the licensee in exchange for using your patent. Royalties, typically, are paid over the life of the patent. The amount and frequency with which royalties are paid from licensee to licensor must also be spelled out in the license agreement. In this way, the licensor is protected. If the licensee fails to pay the royalties that were agreed to, the licensor can revoke the patent license and retain sole exploitation rights over it.
1. The first kind is pre-market entry milestones. In short, these are obligations that the licensee is expected to achieve or meet. They could include things like bringing the invention under a trial or validation process, creating a working prototype, satisfying pertinent regulations, progressing through any clinical trials that exist, and so forth. These performance obligations ensure that things move along at a steady pace without any income-killing lag in activity. It prevents the licensee from become inactive as a rights holder.
2. The second kind of performance obligations are post- market entry sales targets. These take effect once the invention is out of the development stage and available for sale on the market. Very simply, such obligations include sales targets, profit margins, or any other measurable goal tied to the performance of the idea in the free marketplace. These obligations give the licensee concrete goals that he must attain and give the licensor a bare minimum of royalties that he can expect to reap.