Field of Use

What Is Field of Use?

Field of use is a restriction (the opposite of an endorsement) placed on a license granted for the use of an existing patent, invention, or other intellectual property. It limits the scope of the licensee's right to use it for a particular purpose (or field of use). This stops the patent or trademark from being overused or recklessly used by a single licensee. It also leaves the licensor free to work with other companies on other uses.

Key Takeaways

  • Field of use is a restriction placed on a license granted for the use of an existing patent, invention, or other intellectual property.
  • Field of use stops the patent or trademark from being overused and leaves the licensor free to work with other companies on other uses.
  • In addition to specifying the field of use, a license may specify fields of use from which the licensee is excluded.
  • Field of use licensing is particularly useful for technology and scientific research that has, or may come to have, multiple, distinct uses.
  • These restrictions are placed on patents or properties to protect the identity of the patent, or to prevent a single licensee from overusing the patent.

How Field of Use Works

Field of use provisions in licensing agreements provides licensors with greater control over the use of their intellectual property while maximizing its use and value. They give owners of patents, inventions, or intellectual property greater control over how they are used in the marketplace.

For example, an illustrator might enter into a licensing agreement with a book publisher that limits the use of an image to the cover of a new book, preventing the image from being used in advertising campaigns. Or an antibiotic might be licensed for veterinary purposes, but not for humans.

Licensing agreements delineate the terms under which one party may use property owned by another party.

In addition to specifying the field of use, the license may specify fields of use from which the licensee is excluded. In exclusive field of use licenses, only one licensee is authorized to use intellectual property. Innovators often license a technology or intellectual property exclusively, but sometimes multiple licensees are needed to fully develop a technology's potential or reach different markets.

Field of use restrictions are commonly used at universities, where teams of researchers may collectively hold a patent, but they may have different views about how the patent should be licensed. For example, if a biochemistry lab at a university isolates a new gene and sequences that have many different commercial uses, field of use restrictions could relate to applications in gene therapy, screening pharmaceutical drug candidates, or for developing a therapeutic based on antisense approaches.

Special Considerations

Field of use licensing is often used when granting free licenses or open licenses. This enables the license holder to profit from new uses that might be found for their intellectual property in the future. Field-of-use limitations can also raise antitrust issues when such arrangements are used to allocate markets or create cartels.

With any new invention or technology, the licensor must ascertain the possible fields of use. To do this, the licensor needs to brainstorm as many useful applications as possible. For instance, if a lab develops a new organic chemical, the scientist could ask the following questions: Could the chemical be used in a fertilizer? Could the chemical be used to produce a food additive? Could the chemical be used in cleaning products? Could the chemical be used in manufacturing colognes?

Once the licensor has determined all the possible uses, they can then market the technology to companies serving one or more of the markets those use applications represent, maximizing the technology's value.

What Is a Patent Licensing Agreement?

A patent licensing agreement is a license to use or commercialize products that are covered by one or more patents. These are intricate documents with clear fields of use and usually require significant negotiation. Therefore, they are best drafted with a lawyer if possible.

Can a Patented Idea Be Used for Personal Use?

A patented idea, in the U.S., cannot be realized even when the use is strictly personal. Due to the nature of patent infringement laws being so expensive to undertake, it is rare that the owner or licensor will actually pursue a private individual who uses a patent in a strictly personal way. If any money changes hands, it becomes much more likely for a suit to arise.

Are Patent Applications Public?

U.S. Patent applications are published and made public, but only after 18 months. At this time they are able to be searched on the U.S. Patent Office website. Note that for provisional patent applications, if they are not examined, they become abandoned and will thus never be published.

Why Do Inventors License Patents?

Inventors license patents as a way to generate income. Inventors can also license patents if they patented something that requires too much capital for them to produce themselves.

In this case, they would license the patent to someone who had the capital or machinery required to produce the patented design. Patent licensing is not the same as a patent transfer. With a patent transfer, the inventor gives up the right as the owner of the patent.

The Bottom Line

Field of use is used to restrict what can actually be done with a patent or intellectual property. This can be used to help protect the patent's reputation and allows the owner or licensor of the patent to exact specific controls over how exactly the patent or property can be used. In many cases, the licensor or owner considers field of use when the product or patent has the potential to be used in alternate ways than what the owner or licensor intended.

Article Sources
Investopedia requires writers to use primary sources to support their work. These include white papers, government data, original reporting, and interviews with industry experts. We also reference original research from other reputable publishers where appropriate. You can learn more about the standards we follow in producing accurate, unbiased content in our editorial policy.
  1. Ius Mentis. "Crash Course on Patents."

  2. Neustel. "Provisional Patent Publication."

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