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By J.D. Houvener
Patent Attorney and Founder

Hello, everyone! My name is J.D. Houvener, a USPTO patent attorney, and I’m the managing partner and CEO at Bold Patents Law Firm. Today, I’ll be talking about how long patent rights last, when they expire, and how to extend the life of your patent with a little secret of mine – with continuations. So, today, I’ll be sharing with you and helping you understand how long patents are good for. If you stick around to the end, I’ll be sharing that secret of how to extend patents beyond that 20 years. In the details below, you’ll see a description of a bit of a timeline to jump forward in the video to a certain spot that you want to move toward.

So, first up, utility patents. What is a utility patent? Let’s talk about that really quick. Utility patents generate productivity. These are inventions that give you value, functional benefit. If you think about the iPhone, okay, it’s got utility in terms of helping you be more efficient. It’s helping us conduct business or talk to people around the world using a cellular device that’s in a certain form and function. It’s giving you huge benefits and utility. On the other side, a design just protects what it looks like, just the ornamentation, the aesthetic appeal of that invention, not what it does. Okay, and for most valuable inventions, you need both. Let’s go back to the iPhone, which I love coming back to. The shape, the fact that it has a button position at the bottom right, that’s a design of the overall phone. That’s a separate protection than the utility patent that resides in what it does, right? The buttons you push, apps, all the functionality of the system. The design is the actual three-dimensional product that you’re holding. That’s the difference. So, let’s go back to utility patents.

Okay, the functional benefit. Let’s think about those patents. They are awarded with 20 years of monopoly. Monopoly is a powerful word, but it’s true, going way back to the Constitution. Article 1, Section 8, Clause 8 says that for inventors that have new and useful inventions, the government will give you 20 years of limited protection, meaning the government will go to bat for you and help you in federal court, make sure that you are the only one able to make use, sell, or import your invention in the US of A. That’s a big deal. So, back in the Constitution, those founding fathers thought it was that important to incentivize inventors to come out of the Woodworks and share their brains with the rest of us. That’s the whole system. That’s why utility patents are given that extra five years because we think that there needs to be that full explanation, that bigger reward for telling us how you built it, right? How we’re supposed to make this invention. Design patents don’t get too much less than 15 years is a good chunk of time. Don’t get me wrong, but those are just more limited. The actual disclosure in a design patent is just a drawing. It’s a very simple clause. It says, “I claim the drawings as shown below.” That’s truly all the design patents say in words. It’s all about the drawings.

Now, you ask how long did they last. As I said, utility is 20 years, design is 15 years. But for interesting cases, for those inventors and business owners that are looking to get beyond that 20-year mark, there are some secrets. The first secret I’ll share with you is that in utility filings and even design filings, there are certain parts of the invention, this whole invention about how it’s going to market, that are kept as trade secrets. A classic example is a company, an aerospace company that manufactures airplanes. Huge monolithic wings that are made of carbon fiber and they’re assembled using complex tools and equipment and processes that are patented, you bet. How to create that curvature, how to add those layers in, but they don’t tell you, for example, how long to heat it or at what radius or at what degree specifically you heat it, right? There’s just enough that’s disclosed in that patent, but trade secret just kept within the company.

Now, there is the second way. This is a major way to get additional time for your invention, is to file a continuation application. When your parent, what’s called a parent application, is filed, you have until that parent gets issued the opportunity to file a continuation or what’s called a continuation in part. Continuation in part is when you’ve got a bell or a whistle or new improvement to your core patent invention, and you want to try to protect that improvement. That is a wonderful opportunity to file that continuation. That’ll take on a life of its own, and you guessed it, a term of its own, and it will go beyond that twenty years. When the parent expires, the child patent will continue on and get you additional protection for your overall invention. So, for more about continuations, please read our blog article. Click the link below to get your free book on Bold Ideas: The Inventor’s Guide to Patents and schedule a free 30-minute consult if you’re ready to move forward at boldip.com. Thanks a lot and have a great day.

About the Author
J.D. Houvener is a Registered USPTO Patent Attorney who has a strong interest in helping entrepreneurs and businesses thrive. J.D. leverages his technical background in engineering and experience in the aerospace industry to provide businesses with a unique perspective on their patent needs. He works with clients who are serious about investing in their intellectual assets and provides counsel on how to capitalize their patents in the market. If you have any questions regarding this article or patents in general, consider contacting J.D. at https://boldip.com/contact/