A patent is designed to protect your intellectual property rights – but only for so long. U.S. patent protection will expire after a certain number of years depending on the type of patent and the circumstances involved. For example, a utility patent, or a patent that protects a new and useful invention or process, will expire 20 years from the date of filing for the initial application. A design patent, or a patent that protects the ornamental design of an item, will expire 15 years from the date of filing.
In most cases, you will not be able to extend your patent’s term and it will automatically become a part of the public domain after the patent has reached its expiration. Since this is typically unavoidable, it is important for patent owners to know and understand what happens after a patent has expired and plan accordingly. Beyond that, if a patent owner does not pay “maintenance fees” on their granted patents, the patent itself may go abandoned. This is equally important if you don’t have a patent to learn just how patent protection works, how long it lasts, and what a patent expiration means for what you have protected.
Why Do Patents Expire?
The main purpose of a patent is to give an intellectual property owner the legal right to exclude others from making, using, or selling an invention for a specific number of years. Interestingly, this doesn’t grant someone the right to make, use, or sell their invention – it allows them to stop others from making, using, or selling (an important distinction!). In simple terms, patents are intended to encourage and support creative thinking and originality. In return, patent holders can market their inventions and earn money through royalties or licensing agreements, ultimately earning back the investment they made in creating the invention.
So, the question that many may find themselves asking is, why do patents expire? Putting a time limit on patents is really meant to promote the ongoing progress of science, technology, and innovation. Allowing patents to last too long could discourage other individuals who have the desire to make developments on an underlying invention. While consumers and the public benefit from patented inventions, they also benefit from inventions that a patent helps spark.
What Happens When My Patent Expires?
Once a patent has expired, the holder can expect a couple of things:
First, the invention will enter the public domain, meaning anyone will be free to make, use, sell, or import the invention without permission from the original patent holder. Having the invention enter the public domain will ultimately allow for greater competition and innovation in the market, as other companies and individuals will be able to build upon the invention or create new and improved products or processes. Second, once a patent has expired and entered the public domain, the patent holder may stop receiving patent-related royalty payments. In addition, any licensing agreements in place with others will automatically be erased.
Can I Renew My Patent?
Unfortunately, it is not possible to renew a U.S. patent after its expiration date and there are typically no exceptions to this rule. Companies try to find creative ways to extend the lives of their innovations, though typically it will not be for the same invention they originally filed on. However, inventors can obtain an additional patent for new or improved aspects of their invention by filing a new patent application. The new patent will in no way be connected to the original and will have its own expiration date.
Trust Wilson Dutra Innovation Law with Your Patent Protection
The patent attorneys at Wilson Dutra understand the value of what you create and will help you protect it for years to come. When it comes to protecting your intellectual property, our team is committed to making the patent filing process as straight-forward as possible. If you are ready to apply for a patent or have any questions regarding the laws of patent protection, we encourage you to contact our office today.