The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) is responsible for keeping track of millions of patents. One of the more important jobs of the USPTO is to keep track of the status of each patent and their expiration.
Patents are grants given by the government to an inventor or innovator for exclusive rights to his or her invention. Patents protect an innovator’s invention by forbidding other individuals or entities from blatantly copying the object, item, process, or design of the patent until the particular patent expires.
Why do patents expire? Patents expire so that the cost of goods remains competitive. For example, let us hypothesize that one single entity or person claimed the patent for an invention like the automobile. That entity or person could mark up prices on the invention it monopolizes, as well as not allowing others to elaborate or better the original design. Therefore, patent expiration encourages competition and innovation, two major principles necessary for a healthy and motivated economy.
When Does My Patent Expire?
There are three basic kinds of patents: Utility Patents, Design Patents, and Plant Patents. Utility Patents and Plant Patents have a twenty (20) year lifespan from the date the patent application was registered. Design Patents are granted for fourteen (14) years. However, all patents can expire early due to various reasons.
The following are the main reasons why patents expire early:
- Failure to pay maintenance fees
- Patent deemed invalid
- Civil litigation deems patent invalid
Basic Patent Information
Patents are primarily a protective grant issued by the USPTO to individuals and entities to ensure an invention, design, or utility is not unlawfully copied or stolen.
Patent applications are structured in a simple manner. To begin with, an applicant must describe the invention, in narrative detail. Secondly, patent applications require drawings of the invention or innovation to describe the item in visual detail. Patent applications also have an oath or declaration part. At this point, the applicant must be competent to sign the patent, identify themselves, their country of citizenship, and affirm to be the initial inventor or inventors of the idea or invention.
Nearly half a million patent applications are filed by the USPTO. The number of applications is growing exponentially. At this rate, the number of annual applications will reach more than one million in a handful of years.
It is also very important not to confuse trademarks or copyrights with patents.