While a patent is active, competitors cannot copy your invention or product. Furthermore, you can hold parties accountable for infringement by enforcing the patent. By protecting your ownership of your invention, a patent is an essential tool for entrepreneurs and businesses.
However, patents have one critical downside: because they are so powerful, they do not last forever. Savvy patent holders should prepare for what happens when they lose the benefits of patent protection.
Pay attention to the patent duration
The duration of your patent will depend on its type as follows:
- Utility patents: For the functional elements of an invention, such as a new electronic or mechanical device, you may apply for 20 years of patent protection.
- Design patents: Design patents can only protect the decorative elements of an invention for 14 years. For example, you may patent the specific design of a chair but not the invention of a chair itself.
- Plant patents: While rare, plant patents can offer up to 20 years of protection for a plant variety. Minnesota agriculture professionals, businesses and institutions have sought patents for new plants such as the Honeycrisp apple.
Keep in mind that there may be unique industry regulations regarding your protections, such as renewal opportunities and exclusivity periods that are separate from the patent period. Furthermore, you may need to maintain your utility patent by meeting fee deadlines. Failure to pay proper maintenance fees results in forfeiture of your patent rights. Your attorney can help you identify your obligations for maintenance as well as industry-specific considerations.
Planning for patent expiration
As you near the last year or so of your patent, begin planning ahead for how your business may shift. Your invention could still central to the success of your business. Although the patent duration gives inventors time to build their reputation for the invention in the market, this is not always the case.
As competitors begin developing similar offerings to your original invention, it is wise to have a new innovation ready to hit the market under a different patent. Alternatively, you may consider allocating resources like marketing funds to fortify your brand.
Some forms of intellectual property protection do offer protection forever, such as trademarks. However, planning ahead for patent expiration is part of an effective business plan.