The Clock is Ticking: Understanding How Long a Patent Lasts
3 minute read
March 27, 2024


A patent can be your guardian of innovation, granting you exclusive rights to your creations. However, these rights don’t last indefinitely.

This begs the question: How long does a patent last?

It’s a high–priority factor every inventor must consider, as it defines the time frame during which you can monopolize your invention.

In this article, we will:

  • Break down the lifespan of patents
  • Explain the factors affecting their duration
  • Show you the strategic importance of understanding patent expiration
Skip ahead: Get a free consultation.

The basics of patent duration

The term of any patent is predetermined and will vary by type. Knowing the duration from the outset helps inventors plan for the future.

Utility vs. design vs. plant patents

  • Utility patents typically last 20 years from the filing date
  • Design patents offer a little less: 15 years of protection from the grant date
  • Plant patents match utilities with a term of 20 years

Utility and plant patents: 20 years from filing

The 20-year term for plant and utility patents is designed to balance the inventor’s rights with the public interest. After this period, the invention enters the public domain.

Inventors should strategize on how to make the most out of these 20 years, potentially through licensing or commercialization.

Design patents: 15 years from grant

The 15-year term for design patents reflects the often shorter commercial lifecycle of design-centric products.

This period protects the aesthetic aspects of an invention without requiring maintenance fees.

Strategic implications

Understanding the implications of this shorter protection span is crucial for inventors focusing on the aesthetic components of their innovations.

Factors influencing duration

Extensions and adjustments

Under certain circumstances, patent terms can be extended or adjusted, such as for pharmaceutical patents facing regulatory delays.

Maintenance fees

For utility patents, paying maintenance fees at prescribed intervals is essential to keep the patent in force throughout its term.

Monitoring patent expiration

Inventors and businesses must vigilantly track the expiration dates of patents to manage their IP portfolios effectively.

Patent renewal and maintenance

While design and plant patents do not require maintenance fees, utility patents do, and failing to pay these fees can result in the early expiration of the patent.

Patent renewal and maintenance strategies

Deciding whether to maintain a patent for its full term involves assessing the invention’s ongoing commercial value against the cost of maintenance fees.

Extending your patent protection

In some fields, particularly pharmaceuticals, patent term extensions will make the difference toward recouping investment due to lengthy regulatory approvals.

Post-expiration patent considerations

  • Market dynamics: The expiration of a patent significantly alters the competitive landscape, allowing others to manufacture and sell the formerly patented product.
  • Your patent strategy: Inventors can prepare for this transition by exploring innovations, refining existing products, or focusing on brand development to maintain market share.

The duration of a patent: The bottom line

Understanding the duration of patent protection and effectively managing patent expiration should be pivotal aspects of your IP strategy.

Strategic leveraging of the patent lifecycle enables you to maximize the commercial benefits of your inventions while laying the groundwork for future innovation.

A free consultation with a dedicated, experienced patent law firm is just one click away.

Reach out to Stanzione Law, PLLC, to start strategizing your company’s future for decades to come.

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