Whether you are an entrepreneur wishing to protect the rights of your business's invention or are a passionate inventor looking to obtain ownership of an original process, patent law allows you to protect the ideas and products that you create. A patent provides patent owners exclusive rights to a product or invention for a set number of years. The complexity of the patent application process combined with questions about the limits of the patent life often make it difficult for inventors and business entrepreneurs to obtain the information they need.

If you are based in Los Angeles and are looking for legal support in a specific patent case or need general information about patent law, UpCounsel’s network of experienced lawyers can provide experienced legal advice tailored to your situation.

This article will explain the basics of obtaining and understanding patents including what patents offer, what type of life an average patent carries, and the specific differences between design, utility, and plant patents. Read on to learn more.

What Is a Patent?

A patent provides a person or business with the right to exclude others from making, using, selling, offering to sell, or importing an invention. The life of a patent is limited, in most cases, to 20 years.

The process of obtaining a patent requires an inventor to submit an official report to the United States Patent and Trademark Office. This report will contain an overview of the invention, a description of the invention, the inventor's original idea or product, and a list of claims - or specific ways that the inventor believes the invention is "non-obvious."

In order for a patent to be obtained, the Patent and Trademark Office must fully understand the scope of the invention and find that it is novel and useful.

Types of Patents

Patents are classified into three distinct categories and each provides the inventor with various levels of protection.

• Utility Patent - These are the most common type of patent and generally protect inventions that affect or improve how a product functions or performs.

• Design Patent - These are intended to protect the unique, ornamental shape or design of a manufactured item.

• Plant Patent - These protect distinct forms of newly developed plants.

The methods of obtaining each patent type are similar but the protection within each can vary greatly.

How Long Does a Patent Last?

In the United States, a patent owner has exclusive rights to an invention for 20 years. This amount of time is considered sufficient for an inventor to be able to benefit economically from their invention.

Many may mistakenly believe that the patent life begins when the patent is granted. In fact, the patent life of a utility patent begins on the date that the first patent application is submitted.

After 20 years, the patent owner's exclusive rights to the invention expire and the invention becomes part of the public domain.

The patent life for a design patent is slightly different than that of a utility patent. A design patent grants the patent owner 14 years of protection from the date that the patent is granted.

A plant patent offers the patent owner 20 years of protection from the date that the patent is granted.

Renewing a Patent

Patent owners cannot renew patents after their life expires. However, one can still extend the patent life with the help of the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

The Patent and Trademark Office provides patent owners with the opportunity to file for a patent term extension. If granted, a patent term extension can be used to extend the 20-year patent life of utility and plant patents. This extension is most often granted in cases where the patent life has been impacted by regulatory reviews or delays in the patent approval process.

Concluding remarks

Understanding the patent process and lifespan is key for those seeking to obtain and successfully maintain their inventions. Patents provide patent owners with exclusive rights to their inventions, allowing them to lawfully benefit from their ideas. Harvesting the greatest benefit from a patent requires a basic understanding of its lifecycle.

If you are considering obtaining a patent from, or are based out of Los Angeles and require legal support from experienced attorneys, the UpCounsel network of lawyers has you covered. From small businesses to the Fortune 1000, groundbreaking companies of all sizes trust UpCounsel and its attorney community to provide high quality, cost-effective legal services.


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