What Happens When Someone Tries to Use a Patent That Has Expired?

By Shelly Morgan

While in effect, a patent offers the holder exclusive rights to his invention. But a patent can expire for two reasons: failure to pay maintenance fees or completion of the natural patent term. What happens when someone makes or uses a patented invention that has expired depends upon why the patent expired.

While in effect, a patent offers the holder exclusive rights to his invention. But a patent can expire for two reasons: failure to pay maintenance fees or completion of the natural patent term. What happens when someone makes or uses a patented invention that has expired depends upon why the patent expired.

Term of Patent

The standard term of a patent is 20 years from the date the patent application was filed. All rights of the patent holder end when the term is over. Unless the term has been extended, the invention falls into the public domain after 20 years, and anyone can use it.

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Maintenance Fees

The situation is a little different if the patent has expired before the end of the patent term because the owner failed to pay maintenance fees. A patent owner can petition to revive a patent that has expired for failure to pay fees. Using someone else's patented invention whose maintenance fees weren't paid is allowed, as long as the patent has not been revived by its owner. But it is wise to frequently search the United States Patent & Trademark Office's database to check the status of an expired patent.

Use Caution

Just because a patent has expired is no reason to assume that you are free to use the invention. The patent owner might have filed another very similar patent, or might have filed for a continuation and let the original patent expire. Under these circumstances, you might be liable for infringement, if you are making or using a protected invention. Conducting a patent search for similar inventions can prevent liability.

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What Does Expired for Non-Payment Mean for Patents?

References

Related articles

What Happens to a Patent When it Expires?

A patent allows you, and only you, to profit from your genius when you invent something new. No one else can manufacture or sell your invention unless you give permission. However, this protection does not last forever. Depending on what you’ve invented, your patent will expire in either 14 or 20 years. When this occurs, anyone can copy your idea and market it. When a patent expires, the protection it offers ceases to exist.

How Long Is a Patent Valid?

A patent is a governmental grant of a short-term monopoly to inventors. U.S. patent laws enable a patent holder to prevent others from making, using or selling the patented invention for a specific time period. How long a patent remains valid depends on the type of patent and other factors.

Why Do Patents Expire?

A patent is an exclusive right to make use, sell and distribute an invention, extended to an inventor or his assignee. In the United States there are two distinct sorts of patents: utility and design. Utility patents have a term of 20 years that begins to run on the filing date of the pertinent application. Design patents have a term of only 14 years, but the term begins to run from the date of issue. A utility patent is a right to the way a particular invention works and is used. A design patent, on the other hand, is a right to the ornamental aspects of the article. Both types of patent may be granted on the same invention.

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