The answer to this often asked question is not as simple as people think.
To determine how long your patent is good for, you need to at least know two things. First, what kind of patent category your invention falls into, and second, your filing date. When you have this information, you can then calculate your patent’s expiration date.
However, as stated before, it is not always a simple process. So, let’s first understand the different kinds of patents and the patent process.
All About Patents and The Application Process
There are three types of patents, and each has its own time validity.
First Understand What a Patent Is
A patent is a legal document giving the inventor(s) the right to stop others from manufacturing, using, selling, or copying their invention(s) during a specific time period.
Certain criteria must be met for the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to grant an inventor a patent.
Patent protection only lasts a set number of years depending on the category of the patent.
There are three types of legal protection, design, utility, and plant.
A design patent is a form of legal protection given to the look of a usable item. Design patents can only be used to protect the look or “aesthetic” of the invention. For example, design patents could protect beverage container and bottle designs, certain unique furniture, specific knife designs, etc. A design patent protection lasts for 14 or 15 years from the granted date.
If you have invented a new item or improved upon an existing invention, a utility patent can be applied for. In order to qualify for a utility patent, your invention must be a machine, process, article of manufacture, or composition of matter. The utility patent is the most common patent requested. Once a utility patent is registered, the patent is valid for 20 years, starting from the earliest filing date associated with the patent application.
A plant patent applies to a new species of plants propagated asexually. This means a plant reproduced through cuttings and seedlings. A plant patent has a duration of 20 years.
Before you prepare and submit your patent application, it is important to make sure that your invention is unique. Ask yourself, does my idea or invention qualify for a patent, and is it marketable?
Follow these steps for your patent application.
- Find Out if You Really Need a Patent
Only the law can determine and agree on whether an invention is patentable. If your invention falls into one of these groups, there is a fair chance you need a patent:
Process: This is a new series of actions and decisions that end or improve following the completion of work. This could be manufacturing steps, machinery operation, or any new methods to apply that achieve a result.
Machine: A new design for a machine with working parts that are unique or an improvement to an existing machine.
Manufacture: A new recipe for manufacturing any goods or items that are developed through a manufacturing process.
Composition of Matter: If a completely new compound is invented due to the combination of elements, such as chemicals, plastics, even medicinal drugs.
- Search Patent Databases including the United States Patent and Trademarks Office
It is imperative to have a search done of patent databases to check that your invention is unique and that there are no other patents of a similar nature that can affect your application.
All patent applications get published before being granted. A thorough search of patent databases such as Google Patents and the USPTO’s PatFT and AppFT will confirm that your invention is unique and will be accepted and granted.
- Consider What Type of Patent to Apply For
Patents fall into three categories utility, design, and plant, as we have covered above. Study your invention and decide what category it falls into.
- Provisional Patent Application
A provisional patent is an easier way to start the application process to a more formal utility patent. Once you have started the process of filing a provisional patent, you are allowed to state that you have a “patent-pending.”
This is a first step toward protecting your intellectual property while building your often more complicated utility patent application.
A provisional patent will provide you protection over your invention. However, you will ultimately have to prepare and file more formal paperwork for a full utility patent.
A provisional patent application is valid for 12 months from the date of filing of the provisional application. Within those 12 months, you will need to file an accompanying utility patent application to receive the full benefits of your provisional application.
A provisional application is not a requirement for any of the more formal patents.
- Fill in Application Forms and Submit
Once you have decided what patent category your invention falls into, you can consider your application strategy. Filling out forms can be daunting, and it is probably a good idea to use professional legal services as they are experienced in this field. However, it should be possible for anyone associated with the invention to complete the forms relatively easily.
Utility Patent Maintenance Fees
Maintenance fees are a must for utility patents and are payable at specific times during the 20-year period after the grant of a utility patent.
Failure to pay maintenance fees will result in your patent lapsing. This means that you lose your patent protection, and other individuals can copy, manufacture, or sell your invention. However, you do have a grace period to make a late payment of these maintenance fees.
Maintenance fees only start after the utility patents are granted, and these maintenance fees do not apply to design or plant patents.
The Point Is to Protect Your Invention
Patent protection can be a complicated affair. There is a whole lot more to know and learn about this subject.
This article set out to teach individuals how long is a patent good for, but it also explains the basic patent application steps. The more you know about this process, the better prepared you will be for your patent application.
Do you have an idea for an invention? Don’t know where to start? Head on over to our learning center for more information on how to make your dreams a reality.