A patent is an exclusive right awarded by the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) to inventors that allows them to exclude others from making, using, or selling their inventions.
In exchange for this monopoly, the patent details must be publicly disclosed so that others can build upon the knowledge.
Patents cover products, processes, and improvements. Securing a patent for an invention is an exciting process, but it also raises the question: how long does a patent last? Understanding the duration of patent rights is definitely important.
The Different Types of Patents
There are three main types of patents – utility patents, design patents, and plant patents. Utility patents protect the functionality of products and processes. Design patents safeguard the ornamental design of an object. Plant patents shield new varieties of plants that are asexually reproduced. While utility and plant patents have similar terms, design patents differ. The question remains: how long does a patent legally last? Let’s find out.
Duration of Utility and Plant Patents
For utility and plant patents filed on or after June 8, 1995, the patent term is 20 years from the earliest effective filing date. This provides inventors with monopoly protection for two decades from the initial application. However, several factors can reduce the effective life of the patent.
The USPTO takes an average of 2-3 years just to initially review applications, which eats into the 20-year term. Maintenance fees, which are required to keep patents active, are also due 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years after issuance. Missing these deadlines causes the patent to expire prematurely. Prosecuting infringers and proving validity in court proceedings can also erode the lifespan.
Duration of Design Patents
Design patents have a shorter lifespan than utility and plant patents. They remain in force for 15 years from the grant date. No maintenance fees are required. While the term is shorter, design patents still provide meaningful protection for aesthetic elements during the key early years of a product’s life cycle.
Maximizing Patent Lifespan
The full 20-year patent term provides the greatest market exclusivity and value for the patent owner. Here are some tips for getting the most mileage from your patent rights:
- File early in the development process to maximize the protected time on the market.
- Request an early patent application publication to put others on notice.
- Pay maintenance fees on time to prevent lapse.
- Consider obtaining IP protection in other countries.
The 20-year patent clock starts ticking from the earliest filing date. With a sound IP strategy often devised with the help of a patent attorney, inventors can capitalize on this critical period of exclusivity.
How Long Does a Patent Legally Last? Takeaways
Understanding patent time limits and options for extension helps inventors make the most of their IP rights. While 20 years may seem lengthy, the actual effective term is often less due to procedural factors. Maintenance fees must also be paid to prevent early expiration. With the help of an experienced patent attorney, securing the full scope and duration of rights is easily possible.