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Patents and Trademarks: Quick Guide: Patent Facts

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Patent Facts

What is a patent?

  • A patent is a grant of a property right by the government to the inventor giving him/her the right to exclude all others from making, using, or selling the invention for the life of the patent.
  • When the patent expires, the invention is freely available to the public.
  • See General Information Concerning Patents for additional information.

Who can get a patent?

  • A patent is granted only to the person/people who invent a "new and useful process, machine, manufacture, or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvements thereof."
  • See General Information Concerning Patents for additional information.

How long do patents last?

  • Utility and plant patents issued since June 8, 1995 expire 20 years from the date of application with the payment of maintenance fees. 
  • Utility and plant patents issued prior to June 8, 1995 expire 17 years from the date of issue with the payment of maintenance fees.
  • Design patent expire 14 years from the date of issue.
  • Patents are not renewable. Under special circumstances, a patent term may be extended.

What does "patent pending" mean?

  • "Patent pending" means that an application has been filed with the Patent and Trademark Office and is being examined. No patent has yet been issued.
  • No patent rights exist until the patent issues.
  • It is illegal to use the terms "patent pending" or "patent applied for" when there is not a pending application, or when the application has been denied.

Who can assist me?

  • You can contact a registered patent attorney or agent for expert assistance.
  • Local libraries may have patent information available.
  • Inventor's groups are listed in the yellow pages.
  • Be careful when you use an invention promotion firm. Some are disreputable. Consider contacting the Better Business Bureau and/or the Federal Trade Commission to see if there are any complaints outstanding on the firm before giving them money.

How much does it cost?


Where can I get forms?

  • A patent application is much more involved than merely filling in forms.
  • A registered patent attorney or agent can write the application for you.
  • To learn how to write claims, specifications, drawings and other parts of the application, books such as Patent It Yourself by David Pressman published by Nolo Press can be useful.
  • Forms such as the declaration, small entity status, and provisional patent application are available on the Patent and Trademark Office's homepage.