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.

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 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? One 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.

Example of Field of Use

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.