Maintaining Patents

Patents normally last for 20 years, but attention must be paid to paying the required maintenance fees.

It is estimated that half of all patents issued are abandoned before their normal expiration dates because the patent owner decided it wasn’t worth paying the fees. Such patents then become available for anyone to use as they wish.

It’s well known that IBM receives more US patents per year than any other company, and it has for over 20 years. Less well known is that IBM also abandons more patents, by intentionally failing to pay maintenance fees, than any other company. This is because not everything IBM patents turns out to be commercially valuable.

The benefit to the public of having patents of little commercial value expire is that others who are in a similar business don’t have to waste time researching whether or not they might infringe the patent.

Maintenance fees and due dates are as follows:

Fee Small Entity Micro Entity
Due at 3.5 years 1,600.00 800.00 400.00
Due at 7.5 years 3,600.00 1,800.00 900.00
Due at 11.5 years 7,400.00 3,700.00 1,850.00

Timing for Payment

You cannot pay maintenance fees in advance. A “window” opens for payment of fees six months before the due date, i.e., at 3, 7, and 11 years after issuance. With an extra charge, fees may be paid up to six months late.

Patents can be revived up to two years after the six month grace period if the non-payment was unavoidable or unintentional. Additional fees apply.

Having an Attorney Maintain Your Patents

The patent office may send you a notice that a maintenance fee is due, but it is not obligated to do so. Not receiving a notice in no way absolves you from the requirement to pay fees.

Since the fees only come due every few years, it is easy for patent owners to forget about them. Most attorneys that deal with intellectual property have software that helps them keep of things such as patent maintenance fee due dates. Having an attorney maintain your patents for you can help you avoid late fees or “revival” fees, or worse yet, having a valuable patent completely expire because you neglected to pay the required maintenance fees.

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