When Do Patents Expire? Decoding Patent Expiration: Know The Key Dates

When Do Patents Expire?

A patent is a legal right that grants the inventor of a new and useful invention the exclusive right to make, use, sell, or import the invention for a limited period of time.

Patents are important for protecting intellectual property and encouraging innovation.

However, obtaining a patent can be a complex and expensive process that involves several steps and fees.

In this article, we will explain when do patents expire and how to find out the expiration date of a patent.

When Do Patents ExpireCourtesy:iPleaders
When Do Patents Expire
Courtesy:iPleaders

Types of Patents and Terms

The first thing to know about patent expiration is that there are different types of patents that have different terms.

There are three main types of patents: utility patents, design patents, and plant patents.

Each type of patent has different requirements, fees, and durations.

  • Utility patents protect the functional aspects of an invention, such as a machine, a process, or a composition of matter. Utility patents are the most common and the most expensive type of patent. They last for 20 years from the filing date of the application.
  • Design patents protect the ornamental appearance of an invention, such as the shape, color, or pattern of an article. Design patents are less common and less expensive than utility patents. They last for 15 years from the date of grant.
  • Plant patents protect new and distinct varieties of plants that are asexually reproduced, such as by grafting or cutting. Plant patents are the rarest and the cheapest type of patent. They last for 20 years from the filing date of the application.

The term of a patent begins on the date that the patent application is filed with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) and ends on the date that the patent expires.

The term of a patent may be subject to adjustments or extensions under certain circumstances, which we will discuss later.

How to Find Out the Expiration Date of a Patent

There are several ways to find out the expiration date of a patent. One way is to use online tools that can calculate the expiration date based on the information provided by the USPTO.

For example, you can use the USPTO’s Patent Term Calculator to estimate the expiration date of a utility, plant, or design patent.

You need to enter some information related to the patent, such as the filing date, the issue date, the type of patent, and any adjustments or extensions that may apply.

The calculator will then provide you with an estimated expiration date based on the information you entered.

Another way to find out the expiration date of a patent is to use online databases that provide legal status information for patents.

For example, you can use Espacenet, a free online service provided by the European Patent Office (EPO), to search for patents from around the world.

You can enter some keywords or numbers related to the patent you are interested in and then click on the Legal Events tab to see if there is any information about the expiration date of the patent.

You can also use other online databases, such as Google Patents or KIPRIS, to search for patents and their legal status.

However, it is important to note that online tools and databases may not always provide accurate or up-to-date information about patent expiration dates.

There may be errors or delays in updating the data or calculating the terms.

Therefore, it is advisable to consult with a patent attorney or agent before relying on any online information about patent expiration dates.

Factors Affecting Patent Expiration Dates

When Do Patents Expire?

As mentioned earlier, there are some factors that can affect the term of a patent and cause it to expire earlier or later than expected. Some of these factors include:

  • Maintenance fees: To keep a utility or plant patent alive, the holder must pay maintenance fees according to the following schedule: 3.5 years, 7.5 years, and 11.5 years after the date of grant. The maintenance fees increase with each interval and vary depending on the size of the entity. If the holder fails to pay the maintenance fees on time, the patent will expire and become abandoned. The USPTO provides a list of patents that have expired due to non-payment of maintenance fees.
  • Patent term adjustment (PTA): if the USPTO takes a long time to process a patent application, the owner might get more time on their patent, beyond 20 years. This extra time is called a patent term adjustment (PTA). The PTA is found by looking at three things: A) how long it takes to get the first office action after filing; B) the time between answering an office action or getting a notice of allowance; and C) the time during an appeal. You add A, B, and C, but remove any overlaps or reductions due to the owner’s fault.
  • Patent term extension (PTE): is for when agencies like the FDA or EPA delay a patented product’s approval. This can happen with certain patents for drugs, medical tools, food or color additives. The patent term extension (PTE) gives more time beyond 20 years. The formula is PTE = (R – T) / 2, where R is the time for regulatory review and T is the testing time. But the PTE can’t be more than five years or extend the patent beyond 14 years after approval.

What Happens When a Patent Expires?

When a patent expires, it means that the holder no longer has the exclusive right to make, use, sell, or import the invention.

The invention becomes part of the public domain and anyone can use it without infringing the patent.

However, this does not mean that the invention is free from any legal restrictions or obligations.

There may be other patents that cover related aspects of the invention or that claim priority from the expired patent.

There may also be other intellectual property rights, such as trademarks, trade secrets, or copyrights, that protect the invention or its commercialization.

Therefore, it is advisable to conduct a thorough analysis of the legal status and scope of any patent or invention before using it.

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