When Does A Patent Expire? Demystifying The Crucial Question

Patents are powerful tools that inventors can use to protect their innovation and profit from their creativity.

But patents don’t last forever, and it is important for inventors to understand why patents expire and how to prepare for it.

In this article, I will explain everything you need to know about patent expiration

When Does A Patent Expire?
When Does A Patent Expire?

Types of Patents and Their Lifespans

The first thing you need to know about patent expiration is that not all patents are created equal.

There are three main types of patents in the United States: utility patents, plant patents, and design patents.

Each type of patent has a different lifespan and a different way of calculating the patent term.

  • Utility patents are the most common type of patents, covering inventions that have a new and useful function, such as machines, processes, or compositions of matter. Utility patents have a maximum life of 20 years from the filing date of the earliest U.S. or international (PCT) application to which priority is claimed (excluding provisional applications) .
  • Plant patents are granted to inventors who discover or create a new and distinct variety of asexually reproduced plant, such as a hybrid or a mutant. Plant patents have a maximum life of 20 years from the filing date of the application .
  • Design patents are issued to inventors who create a new and original ornamental design for an article of manufacture, such as a product shape or a graphical user interface. Design patents have a maximum life of 15 years from the date of grant for applications filed on or after May 13, 2015, or 14 years from the date of grant for applications filed before that date .

Factors That Can Affect the Patent Term

The patent term is not fixed and can be shortened or lengthened by various factors.

Here are some of the most common factors that can affect the patent term:

  • Maintenance fees: To keep a utility or plant patent alive, the patent holder must pay maintenance fees to the USPTO according to the fee schedule. Late payment can be made within 6 months of the due date with an additional surcharge. If maintenance fees are not paid on time, the patent expires. Design patents do not require maintenance fees.
  • Patent term adjustment: To compensate for delays caused by the USPTO in examining and issuing a patent. The number of days of PTA is calculated by the USPTO based on three types of delays: A delay, B delay, and C delay. The number of days of PTA is shown on the face of the issued patent.
  • Patent term extension: The PTE is calculated by the USPTO based on the length of the regulatory review period and the date of the first permitted commercial marketing or use of the product. The PTE is shown on the face of the issued patent or on a certificate of extension issued by the USPTO.
  • Terminal disclaimer: A terminal disclaimer is a statement filed by the patent holder to agree that a patent will automatically terminate when a related patent terminates. A terminal disclaimer can be filed voluntarily by the patent holder or required by the USPTO or a court as a condition for granting or maintaining a patent.
  • Invalidation: A patent can also expire if a court of law or the USPTO finds it invalid. This can happen if someone challenges the validity of the patent in a lawsuit or in a post-grant proceeding, such as an inter partes review or a reexamination.

Conclusion

Patent expiration is an inevitable and important event that affects the patent holder, the industry, and the society.

Knowing when does a patent expire and what factors can influence the patent term can help inventors plan ahead and make the best use of their patent rights.

Following the best practices to maximize the value of a patent can also help inventors protect their innovation and profit from their creativity.

Patents are valuable assets that can have a lasting impact on the world, but they also have a limited lifespan that inventors should be aware of.

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