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Pamphlet labeled with "Patent" on a conference room table

How long do patents last?

A patent can provide crucial protection. It gives you exclusive rights to a product or process that offers something new. Without the patent, others could copy your idea and deprive you of its full earning potential.

Is there a limit to how long a patent will protect you?

Some patents can lapse sooner than others

There are three types of patents — and the United States Patent and Trademark Office defines them as follows:

  • Design patents
    • “The patent law provides for the granting of design patents to any person who has invented any new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture. A design patent protects only the appearance of the article and not structural or utilitarian features.”
  • Plant patents
    • “A plant patent is granted by the United States government to an inventor (or the inventor’s heirs or assigns) who has invented or discovered and asexually reproduced a distinct and new variety of plant, other than a tuber propagated plant or a plant found in an uncultivated state.”
  • Utility patents
    • “Issued for the invention of a new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or a new and useful improvement thereof.”

Design patents last 15 years (or 14 years if taken out before May 2015). Utility and plant patents last 20 years.

However, you must pay a fee to maintain a utility patent at 3.5 years, 7.5 years and 11.5 years. The other two patent types do not require this.

If you referenced an initial (failed) attempt in your successful application, then your protection period will be taken from the date of that initial application rather than the first successful attempt.

Can you extend a patent?

You generally cannot extend your patent. But the government sometimes makes exceptions if government delays mean the patent holder could not benefit from the full-time period. For instance, if the Food and Drug Agency (FDA) delayed approving a drug, then the drug company could argue they could not sell the drug for the full-time period, so they deserve an extension.

You may, however, be able to apply for a new patent if you make a slight variation to the process or product that makes it different enough from the original to qualify for its own patent.

Does patent length vary if it’s domestic or international?

The U.S. Patent Office only protects your invention within the U.S. To protect it elsewhere, you must apply to the patent offices in particular countries or regions. Their rules regarding expiry and maintenance may vary.

Patent protection is complex, and requirements and conditions can vary depending on what you are patenting, when, and more. Getting legal help will be crucial to getting the protection you need for your invention – both domestically and internationally. Contact the attorneys at Patterson Thuente IP to get help and legal recommendations on all kinds of patents.


Contact us at 612-361-0309 or fill

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Minnesota Office

4800 IDS Center

80 South 8th Street

Minneapolis, MN 55402

Phone: 612-361-0309

Montana Office

2066 Stadium Drive

Ste. 101

Bozeman, MT 59715

Phone: 406-851-9836


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