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How long does patent protection last?

Everything these days seems to come with an expiration date, and patents are no exception. If you have a new invention or new way of producing a product, you have good reason to protect it against theft. You certainly want to secure it if you want to monetize your idea or invention. Alternatively, you might want to obtain a patent to be sure no one else exploits your idea or invention to your detriment.

Either way, a patent serves this kind of purpose, but for how long. So to ensure that you maintain the full measure of protection you desire from a patent, you need to know the answer.

In the United States, the federal government issues several types of patents. They include:

  • Design patents – Protecting what an invention looks like. This extends to its shape, any ornamental features or aesthetic attributes.
  • Utility Patents – Protecting how an invention works. This could include the unique structure of the invention, or method of use. It could also include any unique process of production.
  • Plant patents -- This might be particularly applied in Minnesota and South Dakota because of the importance of agriculture in the region. A plant patent can be sought for the discovery of an asexually reproduced, distinct new plant variety.

As noted on the StopFakes.gov website, utility patents last for 20 years from the date an application is filed. The same is true for plant patents. However, to keep a utility patent in force, the government requires patent holders to pay additional fees periodically.

A design patent typically provides 14 years of protection against infringement. The window begins on the date the patent is granted.

Merely having a patent doesn't insure that your idea won't be exploited by someone else. When infringement does occur, various options for defense of the patent exist and finding the right response is something worth speaking about with an experienced attorney.

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