Dealing with patent infringement
A patent is the most powerful way of protecting your intellectual property, but it's not automatic. If you think patent infringement may have taken place, you will have to decide what to do next, and if your decision is to take legal action, you will have to prove your case. A well drawn up, wide ranging claims section in your patent should make it difficult for anyone to successfully steal your ideas, but an drawn out legal battle could still be on the cards. In the UK , since 2004 you can get an official opinion from the Patent Office as to whether your patent has been infringed or not before you spend lots of money on a court case. Even if it has, not everyone decides to go to court: there have been cases of large companies buying up smaller ones which have nicked a patented idea because it was cheaper than suing them.
It's in fact only a small percentage of patents which are ever formally challenged in this way, but the outcome of the cases which do go to court can demonstrate the bite a patent potentially has. James Dyson, inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, took Hoover - a name literally synonymous with vacuum cleaners - for several million pounds in 2001 for infringing his patent. Cases like this make a patent a powerful deterrent for all but the boldest copycats.
One thing to be careful of is someone working around your patent. If there are any omissions or ambiguities in the claim - the bit which describes what people cannot do in relation to your invention - it may be possible for a resourceful copycat to do what you did without committing patent infringement. The way to avoid this is to get good legal advice when you draw up the application. And in the US you can request at the time of application that the patent is not published when it is granted: either way you have a year or more of grace since it remains secret through the application process.
If you suspect your patent has been infringed, buying up the offender's business is not the only option you have to stay out of court. First of all, you need a professional opinion as to whether or not there has been patent infringement. If so, you can send via your lawyer a letter outlining the patent infringement and demanding compensation. If this is ignored or contested legal action may be the inevitable next step. If the offending party responds positively you may be able to negotiate (again, probably via your lawyer). For example, they may stop copying you in return for your letting the compensation drop. or you may get the full whack.