If you're wondering how to buy expired patents, you will be pleased to know that this is not an impossible task. It will, however, take some due diligence in order to legally protect you and your company. If you have recently conducted a patent search and would like to move forward, here is what you need to know. 

USPTO Patent Maintenance Requirements 

Once a patent is approved, it needs to be renewed. After 4, 8, or 12 years, if fees are not paid to the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), the patent will expire. 

These maintenance fees are due before 3.5, 7.5, or 11.5 years have passed. There is also a six-month 'grace period' — which requires an additional $150 be paid in addition to the standard fees. 

If an owner does not pay for renewal, patents can only be reinstated if that individual or company pays a significant surcharge fee. They will also likely need a legitimate reason for allowing that patent to expire. This will be in the form of a petition.

Although patents do get reinstated, there are three expiration tranches that dictate resulting fees for large entities. Smaller entities typically pay half the following amounts:

  • E1 — up to $1,130
  • E2 — up to $2,850
  • E3 — up to $4,730

It is important to note that although U.S. design and plant patents expire after 14 years and 20 years respectively, they do NOT require maintenance fees. 

Is There a Way to Buy Expired Patents?

When wondering how to buy expired patents, know that not everything can be patented, which is fundamental to the patent system. For example, if a technology is already considered to be 'public domain,' a company or individual cannot patent it. There are numerous circumstances where this is the case.

  • When something has already been around throughout history — such as oxygen or pears.
  • Alternatively, an invention can be released into public domain without a patent and thus are no longer patentable. An example would be the wheel or Salk's polio vaccine. 
  • An existing patent may have also expired, which is the case for the telephone. 

If you would like to purchase an expired patent, this IS possible. In order to do so, you must first contact the patent owner or the attorney on record for that patent. 

How to Use Expired or Abandoned Patents Instead of Re-inventing 

To begin, head over to the U.S. Patent Full-Text Database Manual Search. Search by filing date — inputting either one specific date or a range of dates. This will allow you to access patents on the invention you are creating. You will then need to:

What Are Patents?

Before you take that initial step to buy expired patents, it is important to understand how this process will benefit your invention or idea. Put simply, a patent ensures that only you can profit from your unique invention. 

Only when you give others permission are they able to manufacture or sell what you have invented. To better address your needs, there are three patent options available. In most cases, these are non-renewable. 

  • Plant Patents — These patents protect new vegetation or hybrid plants and are good for 20 years. 
  • Design Patents — If you have reinvented an existing product in a way that is innovative and creative, you'll need a design patent. These last for 14 years. 
  • Utility Patents — Pretty much everything else falls into this category, including new machines, software, processes, etc. These also last for 20 years. 

Effect of Patent Expiration 

Once a patent expires, the previous owner is no longer protected. Since patents expire 20 years after they are filed, any invention that is more than two decades old is likely available for you to copy without violating another patent. It is highly recommended that you work with an attorney for this process just to make sure!  This can protect you in the short- and long-term growth of your business.

If you are wondering how to buy expired patents, you can post your legal need on UpCounsel's marketplace. UpCounsel accepts only the top 5 percent of lawyers to its site. Lawyers on UpCounsel come from law schools such as Harvard Law and Yale Law and average 14 years of legal experience, including work with or on behalf of companies like Google, Stripe, and Twilio.