Obtaining a patent for your business’s product or process is a crucial step to protect it from unauthorized use. Yet, like the rights to any new invention, patents are only valid for a certain period of time. Understanding how long patents last is essential for both businesses and business attorneys when determining the longevity of an invention’s protection. To help break down this complex issue, below we provide a comprehensive guide outlining the top five considerations for businesses looking to protect their inventions and innovations against unauthorized use.

First and foremost, businesses must consider the type of patent when determining its longevity. The duration of a patent’s protection varies based on the type—processing, design, or utility—as well as the country in which it was filed. Patents filed in the United States, for example, remain valid for 20 years from the date of application. When it comes to design patents, protection depends on whether the design was created in the US or abroad—in the former, patent protection lasts 15 years, while in the latter, its generally lasting for five or ten years, depending on the country from which it was registered.

Another factor to consider when determining how long patents last is when they are issued. Again, while most patents in the US last for 20 years from the date of application, patents issued after June 8, 1995 may remain in effect for 14 years from the date of grant or 20 years from the date of application—whichever comes first.

Businesses should also consider the role of maintenance fees when determining how long their patents will last. For inventions and innovations registered after October 1, 2000, maintenance fees must be paid at specific times throughout its life in order to keep the patent valid. Failure to pay these fees can lead to a patent’s expiration before the normal 20-year duration.

Businesses must also take into account the impact of divisional applications when examining the lifespan of their patent. When a patent is granted for an invention, the business may choose to further delve into the invention’s details by applying for a “divisional” application. In this case, a new patent is issued that holds its own duration of protection that is typically linked to the parent’s patent.

It is important to note that, in the United States, expired patents may be subject to reissue. This allows for either a replacement of a previously granted patent to “correct” errors or for a “substitute” patent that expands the rights by introducing additional claims. Patents can only be reissued during the lifetime of the patent or for two years after its expiration, meaning businesses may be able to prolong the lifespan of their patent.

Ultimately, the length of a patent’s protection can vary significantly based on different factors, from the patent type to maintenance fees and reissue rights. While businesses should understand and leverage these considerations when developing their legal strategies, they may benefit from the guidance of experienced patent attorneys so that they can maximize their patent’s lifespan. Chicago-based businesses can find assistance with legal matters through UpCounsel, a trusted connection to experienced attorneys who can provide quality, cost-effective services.


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