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Patent expiration dates and delinquent fees that may invalidate infringement claims


When it comes to filing patents, many companies fall between two extremes. Some startups rush to be the first to patent their invention and get it to market, while other entrepreneurs are much more deliberate in creating a design for their product, building their prototype, or establishing ideal workflows, which takes even more time to introduce them to the general public. 

Patent disputes are common in the intellectual property (IP) space. Patent litigation may follow if a person or entity willfully misappropriates creative work as their own. While some infringements are deliberately executed by alleged violators hoping to outwit the original IP holder, others may lose a patent dispute due to confusion over how long patents legally remain in effect.

Creative efforts that can be patented

Most patents involve technologically oriented inventions. However, additional concepts can be patented provided that they aren’t solely theories or ideas, including:

  • Products
  • Devices
  • Processes
  • Methods

A valid patent must be utilitarian or nuanced, meaning they serve a different purpose or functionality from an existing concept.

How long patents remain in effect

Depending on the type of patent, different validity dates will apply. U.S. utility patents generally remain in effect for 20 years from the time of application and 17 years once granted. On the other hand, design patents are generally only valid for 14 years from their issuance if issued before May 13, 2015, or 15 years if done so after that.

Additionally, a patent can expire before its typical expiration period if the IP holder doesn’t pay the required periodic maintenance fees. These are due at the 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5-year milestones. 

IP holders who fail to pay their maintenance fees or renew their patents may allow the patent to reenter the public domain. In this scenario, others could lawfully use the patent without owing any royalties to its original owner. It’s also possible to take a previously patented invention, improve upon it, and have it newly patented while it was in the public domain. 

If a patent holder fails to keep track of expiration dates or their maintenance fees, they may leave themselves vulnerable to others who can lawfully claim ownership of their patent. It is essential to understand whether your patent is valid before responding to what you believe is an infringement of your IP rights.