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When Will My Patent Expire?


One of the most famous patents in history is the “electronic device.” When Apple was developing the iPhone, they created a patent for it called the “electronic device.” Of course, that device would change the world.


When it comes to patents, especially your first patent, you may not know a lot about them. You may not know how to form a patent, and you may be wondering if/when your patent will expire. If you have a patent, this is a critically important question because your patent’s longevity will determine how long you own the exclusive rights to the invention you patented. Here’s a guide that can offer some insight on how long your patent will last.



How Do You Patent? 


If you want to earn a patent, you need to understand every step of the process. Here are some simple steps that can help you get the process started. First, you need to see if anyone else has already patented or publicly disclosed your inventive concepts. If someone has a similar invention, you cannot patent yours in its current form. However, you can always add additional features or functions to differentiate your invention from others.


After you have searched to see if any similar inventions exist, you may consider hiring an attorney to help you with the legal process. Attorneys will help you streamline your patenting process and provide helpful legal advice along the way. However, attorneys tend to be very costly (typically $5,000-$16,000) depending on the complexity and length of your patent application. If you are looking for a more cost-effective method of preparing and filing your patent applications, check out our Learning Center to learn how to navigate the entire patent application process start to finish, for a fraction of the cost of patent professionals.


Next, you should file a provisional patent. A provisional patent allows you to solidify your filing date so that you have time to prepare your full utility patent application. Without a provisional patent in place, someone can come along and file a patent application containing your inventive concepts before you get the chance to. In essence, a provisional patent buys you more time so that your invention cannot be stolen, and no one can say you stole the idea from them.


After that, you should draft a full utility patent application and carefully review it. This application will require a tremendous amount of detail. In fact, you must describe your invention in enough detail that anyone familiar with your inventive concepts could easily make and use your invention.


The utility patent application must contain an abstract, specification, and at least one claim. Each of these sections of content must disclose how the invention is made and what the invention does. It is also recommended to include patent drawings to help your readers visualize your inventive concepts. It’s important to repeatedly review your patent application before filing since it takes a long time for applications to be processed. Any errors you make will only extend that time. If you want to learn more about the benefits of earning a patent, you can check out this article on our blog. It is also important to understand the process of patent rejections.



What if Your Patent is Rejected


If your patent is rejected, it’s time to go back to the drawing board and ask yourself some questions. First, you need to determine if your invention works the way you describe it. If it doesn’t work how your patent application discloses it, then the examiner will see it as something that doesn’t work properly. In addition, your patent may have been rejected because it’s not seen as unique. This means that your invention is too similar to another invention, and therefore does not pass the USPTO’s patentability requirements.


If your patent is rejected, there are still paths forward. You can file a continuation application to prompt the examiner to give a closer look at some parts of the invention that were originally rejected. You can also file a continuation-in-part application to make some modifications to your original application to make it patentable. Remember, you always have the right to appeal the examiner’s decision if you think their reasoning was unjustified, and further examination is needed.



The General Rule of Patent Expiration


The lifetime of a patent varies depending on the type of patent and whether or not you keep up with your maintenance fees. The general rule when it comes to full patents is that they expire after 20 years. However, that is not the case with every patent. The table provided in Figure 1 below describes the lifetime of each of the five most popular types of patents.


Patent Type The Lifetime of the Patent
Utility Patent 20 years from the earliest filing date associated with the patent application
Plant Patent 20 years from the earliest filing date associated with the patent application
Design Patent 15 years from the date the patent is issued
Provisional Patent 12 months from the filing date of the patent application
PCT Patent 30 months from the earliest filing date associated with the patent application

Figure 1


Your patent will always expire earlier if the maintenance fees are neglected. If you want to keep your patent active, you need to pay maintenance fees along the way. You will need to make these payments at 3.5 years, 7.5 years, and 11.5 years after the patent is granted. It’s also important to remember that these fees are only required for utility patents. Therefore, design patents, plant patents, and provisional patents don’t require any maintenance fees. For those who are not familiar, we will discuss the differences between utility patents and design patents below.



What is a Utility Patent? 


utility patent covers any “useful process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter, or any useful improvement thereof.” More often than not, it’s a device or a method of making or using a device. That can include anything from an engine to a computer and everything in between.



What is a Design Patent?


A design patent is solely intended to protect the visual qualities of an invention. Some examples of inventions commonly protected by design patents include jewelry, unique styles of furniture, or unique automobiles. One famous design patent was the Coca-Cola bottle, which earned its patent due to its unique shape. Lastly, it’s important to remember that design patents have a shorter lifespan than utility patents. They only last about 15 years compared to the 20 year lifetime of utility patents.



Can You Receive an Extension on Your Patent? 


The short answer is yes, but it is not a simple process. The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is responsible for all US patents and deciding whether or not they deserve an extension. Essentially extensions are only granted when they are thoroughly deserved.


The USPTO will determine if an extension is warranted based on several different factors. These factors typically include the type of patent, the patent’s content, and how the patent impacts the rest of the world. For instance, if you have a patent that includes pharmaceutical intellectual property, the USPTO will determine how your patent impacts the pharmaceutical industry before granting an extension. It’s important to understand how patent extensions work, especially towards the end of your patent’s lifetime. You never want to lose the rights to your invention prematurely.



Why You Should Know When Patents Expire


It is important to always keep the date your patent expires circled on your calendar. Since patents protect your intellectual property from others, you should plan ahead for the business implications that come with the end of your patent rights. If you do not plan accordingly, you could lose a lot of money, and a lot of business when your competitors are allowed to use your intellectual property. By establishing new business practices or filing new patents, you may continue to capitalize on your inventive concepts even beyond your first patent. The more preparations you make for life beyond your patent, the better suited you will be to guide your business through the transition.


If you have any other questions about patents, or you would like to learn more about filing a patent application on your own, click here.

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