How long does patent protection last?

Glenn W. Peterson

Once you and/or your company create a new product and are preparing to take it to market in Sacramento, you might want to take moment to first ponder these questions:

  • Does your product need to be patented?
  • What type of patent do you want?
  • How long will that patent provide protection?

If you are already working in a crowded market, your chances of being granted any meaningful protection for your product may be slim. That may cause you to reconsider expending the resources, time and effort into getting it patented. However, if your product features any degree of innovation, the only way to ensure that is protected is through a patent.

The innovation that your product offers will determine which type of patent you seek. According to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, if it represents a completely new machine or composition of matter, a manufacturing process or the useful improvement of such, then you need to seek a utility patent. A newly invented plant cultivar would require a plant patent, while a new and original design of a product would warrant a design patent.

Both utility and plant patents can provide you with protection for up to 20 years. With a utility patent, however, you are required to pay maintenance fees at 3½, 7½ and 11½ years. Design patents offer product protection for fourteen years.

What if you originally had your product patented, yet later discovered an error with the patent itself? In such a case, you could ask for a reissue patent. While such a patent could affect the scope of protection you enjoy, it would not change the time length of the original patent’s protection.