Patent Law Question: Simultaneous Invention?

From my readings about science, it is clear that many inventions were made by different people, at or around the same time frame. For example: radio transmission was invented by Tesla (US), Popov(Russia), and Marconi (Italy) at about the same time. My question is: how does patent law deal with this issue? Suppose you are a hard-working inventor, and in your basement lab, you come up with a new method of making computer chips. You contact a patent attorney, and pay him …he does a patent search, files your patent, and the Patent office awards you a patent on the process.
Next week, you read the paper, and find that giant INTEL is using your process. You contact your lawyer, and sue INTEL…their people say that they invented the process.
How are such questions resolved? Does a small inventor ever prevail against a giant corporation?
And, what if Intel is right? They are able to prove that an employee of theirs came up with the same process, at about the same time? What then? :eek:

IANA patent L, but I’ve done IP work for a small biotech I used to work for.

The US is unique in that the patent goes to the first person to invent rather than first to file (like the rest of the world). This of course can lead to very complicated “who invented it first” disputes that can be nearly impossible to settle.
The USPTO therefore has a procedure (called an interference) to settle the matter officially. This is basically a hearing in front of a patent judge to prove who invented the said obeject first by reviewing records, notes, prior art, public disclosures, etc. This is where and why accurate record keeping during the invention process is vital.
All of this is very expensive and time-consuming (2 to 3 years is not uncommon), so sometimes parties will agree to settle the manner some other way (for example, the party more capable of protecting the patent files it and shares revenue with the other party).

There are 2 parts to an invention actually though, conception and reduction to practice. Conception is, obviously, the conceiving of the idea. Reduction to practice generally involves physical testing to confirm the suitability of the invention for the purpose for which it was designed. The real nasty disputes are when someone conceives of an idea and someone else reduces it to practice. Here, generally the conceiver must be able to show that they made a reasonable and dilligent effort to reduce the invention to practice before the other party conceived of it. If they did, the 1st person gets the patent. If not, the 2nd does.

Interference proceedings are very complex legal disputes and hopefully an honest-to-God patent attorney will happen by.

Reduction to practice can also be “constructive,” that is, performed in the inventor’s head, if that is sufficient to explicate (and put the inventor, and then the public) the details necessary to enable one of ordinary skill in the relevant art to practice the invention.

If you beat Intel by one day . . . you win (assuming you can provide the proof). Heck, if you beat them by 1 hour, you’d win. Do individuals ever prevail against big corporations? The proper answer is probably a somewhat cynical, somewhat idealistic “Yes, but it’s tough.”

I invented an ever-simmering saucepan. I firmly attached a pocket watch to a heavy saucepan, and I went to the patent office. I explained that my invention could simmer a sauce all day, and never boil it. They threw me out. I can still hear the words echoing down the hall: “It’s not original, you dimwit! Everybody knows a watched pot never boils!” :smack: :wink: