How Long Do Software Patents Last?

How Long Do Software Patents Last?
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To know how long your patent is going to last, you need to understand two things: what kind of patent it is and when its earliest filing date was. There are three main types of patents that are available to you when applying for a patent for your software:

Provisional Patents have a term of 1 year, allowing you some time to further develop and refine your software while holding your place in line with the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). It’s worth noting that if you decide to leverage a provisional patent application, the term of your utility patent starts on your earliest filing date, which would be the provisional filing date.

Utility Patents give you exclusive protection for 20 years from your earliest filing date.

GUI Design Patents will provide you with exclusive protection for 15 years from your earliest filing date.

Can A Software Patent Be Renewed After It Expires?

A utility patent can expire early if you fail to pay the required maintenance fees. Thankfully, you may still maintain your patent if you inadvertently miss a filing deadline so long as you pay the outstanding balance and additional penalty fees. To do this, you will only have a six-month grace period from the original deadline. The additional late fees during the grace period are also significantly more expensive.

In rare circumstances, a patent owner may neglect to pay their maintenance fees for so long that the maintenance and grace periods expire. If the neglect was unintentional or unavoidable, the owner might petition the USPTO to reinstate the patent. Once the petition is approved, the patent protections are reinstated, and the owner reclaims all of their exclusivity rights. 

Although you can maintain the registration during this period by paying your maintenance fees, there is no way to reinstate a patent that expires at the natural end of the patent’s full term. Once your patent reaches the end of its term, the patent expires, and your protected intellectual property is now a part of the public domain. This means others will be free to use and market your invention without first obtaining your permission. 

Typically, if you were receiving patent royalties, these would stop upon expiration of the patent. Likewise, your patent-related licensing agreements will no longer be enforceable. Most agreements account for this by defining the term of the agreement as concluding upon expiration of the last licensed patent. 

Why Do Software Patents Expire?

If patent protection lasted indefinitely, it would put limits and excessive constraints on further innovation as the invention would never be able to be used by a third party to build upon them or advance other technology. The length of protection for a patent gives the owner a significant amount of time to recoup their investment and establish dominance in the marketplace while keeping from slowing down innovation after their expiration. 

Consider the patent for the first telephone. If patents remained enforceable indefinitely, anyone who wanted to improve on the original design would have needed to obtain permission from the original patent holder. This would have given one man a monopoly on the innovation of the telephone. For example, the telephone may never have developed into a cordless design and then into cell phones, and the smartphones that we know today may look nothing like what we know. 

If that one man or company then built on the original patent, a massive and endless monopoly would develop, and no one else would be able to compete unless they built a completely different product. 

On a functional level, patents expire when the owner fails to pay the maintenance fees on a utility patent or the patent reaches the end of its term. This would be at the 20-year mark for a utility patent or at 15 years for a design patent. Utility patents require the owner to pay a maintenance fee at 3.5, 7.5, and 11.5 years, but design patents do not require any such maintenance fees.

Software Patent Examples

It should be no surprise that some of the most successful companies in business today own software patents. Here are a few examples of software patents that are owned by companies you are likely familiar with. Businesses that do the majority of their work online spend just as much time developing their software as they do transacting with their customers. 

Airbnb 

This online homestay booking website has a patent on its software that automatically determines the booking availability of accommodation listings. The computer model evaluates all of the available listings and determines the listings that have the highest probability of being booked by the website visitor. This is just one of 192 patents the company currently holds. 

Facebook 

Have you used filters that are available on social media platforms? Facebook has a pending application for its own version. The patent described software that will apply a digital mask to the user’s face. The software will present various masks based on the user’s emotion and what their friends have selected. 

Doordash

The food delivery company has a patent that is pending for last-mile deliveries made by an automated vehicle. This would allow the company to have autonomous last-mile deliveries for orders with perishable goods. The software in this patent application is a computer process that determines the best logistical route and navigation for the vehicle. 

Coinbase

If you are looking to buy, sell, or store cryptocurrency, then you will appreciate Coinbase’s patent. Its software uses a transaction method that lets you send Bitcoin to an email address without having to pay a miner’s fee. This allows you to instantly exchange your Bitcoin by locking in a local currency price. 

Have Questions About The Patentability of Your Software? 

By now, you should have a solid understanding of how long you can expect your software patent to last. While every inventor would love to have their patent protection last forever, there will always be a balance between exclusivity and fostering innovation. 

You can use this in your favor, by continually advancing your software technology and applying for new patent protections for key developments and innovations. This ensures you always have protection and exclusive profitability for the new and valuable developments of your software. 

Schedule a free consultation today and let our skilled intellectual patent attorneys help you secure a software patent for your innovation.

Andrew Rapacke

Andrew Rapacke

Andrew Rapacke is a registered patent attorney and serves as Managing Partner at The Rapacke Law Group, a full service intellectual property law firm. If you would like to speak with Andrew Rapacke, click here to schedule your free consultation.

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