In order to determine if a patent is still active, you will need to conduct research on a free search engine such as Google Patent or Public Pair on the USPTO’s website. Everything needed to determine whether or not a patent is expired is available on the USPTO’s website. Most patents are viewable in text format. The United States patent and trademark office also provides a patent term calculator that can be downloaded and used to estimate the expiration dates on patents.

Ways to Determine If A Patent Is Expired

  • Perform Basic Patent Term Search
The first step is to locate the patent if you do not have a printed copy. You can locate a digital version on the United States Patent and Trademark Office’s Patent Database, the European Patent Office’s espacenet system or Google Patents. The USPTO suggests a seven-step approach to performing patent searches.
  • Confirm Whether the Term of the Patent Is Tied to the Term of Another Patent
Some patents are tied to the expiration of earlier patents and because of this, some patents may have shorter terms. Shorter terms are referred to as terminal disclaimer and are the result of two applications that have claimed the same invention. Terminal disclaimers are usually marked on the later issued patent and can sometimes be denoted by an asterisk listed after the patent issue date. Terminal disclaimers may only appear in the text of the patent with the related application data. Terminal disclaimers have numerous effects on a patents expiration date and they should be examined by a patent attorney.
  • Was the Basic Term Extended?
Some types of patents have had their terms extended due to patent office delays. Extensions such as these are called patent term adjustments and they are automatically given when the patent is issued. Patents that were issued between August 2009 and March 2010, could possibly have applied for an adjustment therefore, you should pay close attention to patent searches involving patents issued during that time-frame.
  • Was There A Re-Examination Or Loss Of Some Or All Of The Claims?
This can be located on the certificate attached to the patent image on the USPTO’S database. In the event that a patent was withdrawn, it would not be accessible on the USPTO database.
  • Have The Maintenance Fees Been Paid and Kept Up?
To determine if a patents maintenance fees have been paid, use the PAIR database on the USPTO website. This information can be located in PAIR’s maintenance statement section. In this section, you’re able to confirm when fees were paid how much was paid. Keep in mind that it’s also possible that if a patent expired for failure to pay maintenance fees that patent could be revived once payment has been made.

What is the Time Frame for Patent Protection

Utility patents are granted for 20 years from the date in which the patent application was filed. Design patents granted prior to May 13, 2015, last 14 years from the date the patent is granted. Design patents granted on or after May 13, 2015, last 15 years from the date the patent is granted. Plant patents guarantee protection 20 years from the application filing date.

Estimating a Patent Term Expiration

The USPTO has created a patent term calculator to help the public estimate the expiration date of a patent. The calculator can be used to estimate the expiration dates of utility, plant, or design patents. The calculator contains prompts where specific information related to the patent has to be entered in order to aid the calculator in estimating expiration dates. This tool can be obtained on the USPTO’s website and can be downloaded free of cost.

How to Use USPTO and Google Patent Websites to Locate Patent Applications

The most common ways to determine if a patent has expired is to determine if a patent was filed or if it claims priority to a patent filed prior 20 years before the date.  Another way is to determine if maintenance fees have been paid and kept up. An easy way to find a patents filing date is to search google.com/patents. In this database, you will locate the patent and review the cover page of the patent. If you would like to determine if maintenance fees for a patent have been paid you should go to the Public PAIR portal located on the USPTO’s website. On PAIR type in the captcha code. Next, you will need to the patent number field and type in the patent number for the patent in question. Once you have entered that information the transaction history of the patent will populate. If the maintenance fees have been paid this will show up on the report, also if the fees have not been paid there should be an entry that states expire patent, which indicates that the patent has expired.

What is the Time Frame for Patent Protection

Utility patents are granted for 20 years from the date in which the patent application is filed. Design patents granted prior to May 13, 2015, last 14 years from the date the patent is granted. Design patents granted on or after May 13, 2015, last 15 years from the date the patent is granted. Plant patents guarantee protection 20 years from the application filing date.

Estimating a Patent Term Expiration

Teo has created a patent term calculator to help the public estimate the expiration date of a patent. The calculator can be used to estimate the expiration dates of utility plant or design patents. The calculator contains prompts where specific information related to the patent has to be entered in order to aid the calculator in estimating expiration dates. The tool can be obtained on the USPTO’s website and can be downloaded.

Working with a Professional Patent Searcher

A patent search can save you time and money spent trying to patent an invention that’s not even patentable. It is essential to conduct a patent search prior to starting the patent application process. Only patent professionals can effectively conduct a patent search. Numerous amounts of patent applications are filed yearly in the United States alone and navigating the USPTO’s PAIR website could be overwhelming for an inventor. Patenting an invention can be challenging but an attorney familiar with the process can greatly improve the chances of your application gaining approval. If you wish to locate an expired patent contact the Patent Professor for a free consultation.

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