IP Watchdog: How Long Does a Patent Last?, by Gene Quinn
This post originally appeared in IP Watchdog on July 26, 2014.
Before June of 1995, the patent laws in the United States provided that the term of a utility or plant patent ended seventeen years from the date of patent grant. To comply with Article 33 of the Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) Agreement resulting from the Uruguay Round Agreements of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the United States was required to establish a minimum term for patent protection ending no earlier than twenty years from the date the application was filed. Thus, the Uruguay Round Agreements Act amended 35 U.S.C. § 154, and these amendments took effect on June 8, 1995.
Generally speaking, utility and plant patent applications filed on or after June 8, 1995, have a term that begins on the date the patent issues and ends on the date that is twenty years from the date on which the application for the patent was filed in the United States. If the application that ultimately issues contains a specific reference to an earlier filed US or international application, the term ends twenty years from the filing date of the earliest such application. This patent term provision is referred to as the “twenty-year term.”
All utility and plant patents that were in force on June 8, 1995, or that issued on an application that was filed before June 8, 1995, have a term that is the greater of the “twenty-year term” or seventeen years from the patent grant. A patent granted on an international application filed before June 8, 1995, and which entered the national stage before, on or after June 8, 1995, will have a term that is the greater of seventeen years from the date of grant or twenty years from the international filing date or any earlier filing date relied upon for priority purposes.
The twenty-year patent term is the general rule. During the life of the patent it will still be necessary to make maintenance fee payments in order to keep the patent alive. Further, if there is delay introduced on the part of the Patent Office additional patent term will be added on to compensate the patent applicant for unwarranted administrative delay.
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