Invention Geek – Eminent Domain?

Question from Warren C.:

Hello Invention Geek,

Is there a process similar to eminent domain that can be excercised by the government to take ownership of a patent or take away exclusive rights by the inventor if the invention is deemed either something valuable for public safety like smoke alarms or something as dangerous as the atomic bomb for example?

Warren C.

Hi Warren,

Yes, there is a process similar to eminent domain that can be applied to a patent. The United States government can enforce compulsory licensing of a patent. This means that the patent holder is forced to allow others the right to use their technology. The patent holder does normally receive royalties which have been set by law or the courts.

The ability of the government to force compulsory licensing depends on the subject of the patent. The government has the right to require compulsory licensing for an atomic-energy invention or discovery. The CleanAir Act provided for compulsory licensing of an technology which helps to weaken air pollution. Antitrust laws can also force compulsory licensing so that competition may continue.

During World War I, the military took all patents relevant to wireless technology and put them in a mandatory licensing pool. Anyone was then able to use the patents and the patent holders received royalties. The pooling of the patents led to innovations including the mass production of vacuum tubes and a national FM radio network.

Also, the United States government can not be sued for patent infringement. The government’s use of a patent is viewed as an exercise in eminent domain. The patent holder may sue the government for royalties but can not stop the use of the patent. The government may also extend its eminent domain usage of a patent to its contractors.

– TG

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