Can You Ever Lose a Patent?

by Catherine Lovering
Patents are an essential but time-limited tool.

Patents are an essential but time-limited tool.

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Patents provide legal protection for your unique ideas translated into inventions. This exclusive right to put an invention into the marketplace gives you the ability to earn money from the invention to the exclusion of others. However, patents do not last forever. The U.S. government, in addition to issuing patents, also puts restrictions on the length of their use.

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Application Process

A patent is a right granted to an inventor by the U.S. government to exclusively make, use or sell an invention for a limited period of time. To apply for a patent, inventors must specify the type of patent they wish to obtain and provide documentation of their specific invention, drawings, oath swearing they are the original inventor, and a filing fee. An online legal document provider can help you get started.

Types of Patents and Terms

There are three types of patents. A utility patent is for any new and useful process, machine, article of manufacture or composition of matter, or an improvement on an existing process. A design patent is for any new, original and ornamental design for a product to be produced. A plant patent covers the invention or discovery, and subsequent asexual reproduction, of a new plant variety. Utility and plant patents usually last for a 20-year term as of the date of filing. Design patents have a 14-year term as of the date of being granted the patent.

Nonpayment of Maintenance Fees

The U.S. Patent And Trademark Office requires the payment of maintenance fees on utility and plant patents. Failure to pay maintenance fees will result in the loss of the patent. Design patents have no maintenance fee. Maintenance fees on utility and plant patents must be paid 3 1/2 years, 7 1/2 years and 11 1/2 years from the date of the patent grant. Current maintenance fees are listed on the USPTO website.

Court Invalidation of Patents

Courts can invalidate a patent for several reasons. A court will void the patent of a product that is not new enough or is too similar to a product that already exists. In addition, the patent application must legitimately meet any conditions upon which the patent was first granted. This includes the original description, including any drawings, of the invention provided. At any time, a court can revisit the original application and declare a patent void if it did not meet the conditions of patentability when the patent was awarded.