Patent Life Cycle
Understanding the life cycle of a patent from inception to expiration/abandonment is an important aspect of Intellectual Property that can be useful in maximizing your protection. Below is a brief summary of the stages involving U.S. utility patents.
When a patent application/concept is vetted and drafted for filing with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), it is often referred to as the drafting stage. During vetting, searches can be performed (but are not required) to gauge an understanding of prior art applicable to the concept. Once a protection plan is established after evaluating various factors, the patent application is filed.
Once filed, the patent application is in the prosecution stage, and the application is considered to be “patent pending.” At this stage, the patent attorney will need to respond to positions/arguments from a USPTO Examiner to show why the application is novel, useful, and non-obvious in light of the prior art. Note that the time between filing and receiving an action from the USPTO can be months – and sometimes years.
Upon successful arguments/positions, the patent application can be seen as useful, novel, and non-obvious over the cited art and, after the payment of a government issue fee, will become an issued patent. Note that maintenance fees are required for issued patents, and if they are not paid, the issued patent will be deemed an expired patent for failure to pay such fee. If all maintenance fees are paid but the term has expired, the patent will become an expired patent. In general, utility patents expire 20 years after the filing date.
At any point after filing and during the prosecution stage, a patent application can be abandoned. For the sake of brevity, abandonment happens when an applicant fails to respond to the USPTO or fails to pay a required government fee within a set amount of time or other specific requirements.
Another caveat to this life cycle is the ability to file a divisional application or a continuation application. After a patent application is filed, and any time prior to issuance, a divisional or continuation application can be prepared and filed. The divisional or continuation application contains the same detailed description but different claims (so long as such claims and concepts are within the scope of the originally filed detailed description). If new matter is presented, the application will be treated as a continuation-in-part application (CIP). For a CIP application, new matter is given the later date of filing, and the previously filed matter is given the original filing date for examination.
Again, there are many aspects to navigate between a patent’s inception to its expiration/abandonment, but the tips above can serve as a good starting point to understand the life cycle of a patent.